Friday, June 21, 2013

Money is Not Speech, but a Means to Speech

This letter appeared in the NJ Star-Ledger on May 10, 2013:

Treat all money as free speech

The First Amendment guarantees the rights of free speech and government petition to all people subject to its laws. In fact, the entire democratic enterprise is founded upon the idea of communication of one’s ideas and opinions to government representatives and officials.Because a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that money is speech (Citizens United decision), it would seem that the laws against giving money to government officials, directly or indirectly, to influence their decisions is not bribery, but only the exercise of First Amendment rights.And if that is indeed the case, then laws criminalizing such monetary speech should be struck from the books and let participatory democracy run rampant.Jack Colldeweih, Somerset

I left these comments:

RE: "Treat all money as speech"

Jack, your comparison of people spending their own money on advocating their ideas to bribery is a moral perversion.

And you're also wrong about the Court's decision.

The court did not rule that money, as such, is speech. It ruled that money is a means to exercising free speech, and thus restricting spending for the purpose of speech violates the First Amendment.

The court is correct. The right to free speech, like all rights, implies the right to employ the means required to exercise that right. When people spend their own money on their own speech, whether as individuals or in voluntary association and cooperation with others--as with a corporation or a labor union--they are well within their moral and First Amendment rights.

Restricting people's right to spend their own money as they judge best is tantamount to restricting their free speech rights. The Supreme Court protected all of our vital free speech rights in the Citizens United case. They most certainly did not sanction actual bribery. If free speech is bribery, then the whole point of "participatory democracy" is bribery. What is the point of free speech and political advocacy, if not to influence the decisions of government officials?


If there is a stench of covert bribery in political and issue advocacy, blame the mixed economy, in which government has the illegitimate power to dispense economic favors to some at the expense of others. If you want to stop that rampant, corrupt practice, reign in the government's power over the economy. Don't trash the First Amendment.

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