The Democracy for All amendment, which would empower federal and state governments to enact broad restrictions on campaign spending by private citizens with their own money, was defeated in the Senate, as expected. But this was only the statists’ opening shot. This overt attack on First Amendment protections for freedom of speech is not going away, and the Left is gearing up for a long-haul fight to get it enacted. The Right should be gearing up for a long-term fight against it.
As part of this fight, let’s examine the argument most often advanced by the statists in favor of their amendment; that billionaires and wealthy groups such as corporations, if allowed to spend on political campaigns without restrictions, will “drown out the average person’s voice,” harming his “right to be heard.” Under current law, said Senator Robert Menendez, “wealthy billionaires and radical special interests can now flood the air waves with unlimited, undisclosed money.” In the name of leveling the political playing field, the argument goes, we must enact strict spending limits on wealthy factions’ campaign spending.
But far from helping average folks “be heard,” these limits will harm them. Under the First Amendment, the average person needs no special protection. Every person’s free speech rights are protected equally and at all times. The average person gains nothing by silencing wealthier individuals. The truth, in fact, is the exact opposite: Silencing wealthy individuals and groups harms the average person.
Every time someone expresses a political opinion, he speaks not only for himself, but for anyone who agrees with him. When wealthy activists reach millions of people, they speak for the millions who agree with the message, effectively giving airtime to those like-minded folks who individually could never spread their viewpoints on such a wide scale. For example, when the Left’s favorite whipping boys, the Koch brothers, spend their millions promoting their Right-wing message, they often speak for me and millions of other average Americans. When George Soros, the Right’s favorite whipping boy, spends his millions promoting Left-wing viewpoints, he speaks for millions who like his message. Far from drowning out average folks, these wealthy activists supercharge the average person’s beliefs. When you silence someone, you effectively silence anyone who holds that person’s viewpoint.
And what of the average folks that disagree with a viewpoint expressed by some wealthy activist? For one thing, a person can simply refuse to listen. No one, including wealthy individuals or groups, has a “right to be heard.” But for those with a little more intellectual courage, disagreeable viewpoints offer an opportunity. Do I have anything to gain by silencing Soros? Hardly. Confronting and rebutting opposing viewpoints is integral to advancing one’s own viewpoints. I welcome the chance to engage my ideological adversaries. When Soros speaks, it’s an opportunity for me to offer counter arguments in whatever venue is open to me.
And that venue is wide, indeed. “Average”, “everyday” folks don’t need the wealthy to participate in the political arena. There are myriad tools at our disposal. No private citizen can drown out anyone’s voice. As I wrote for the Objective Standard:
No matter how much anyone spends on his own speech, no private citizen or institution can stifle anyone else’s voice. An “ordinary” individual can write letters to the editor, speak to friends and co-workers, attend town-hall meetings, start a blog, or participate in social media or online debate forums. He can pool his money with others to take out ads, or donate money to think tanks or PACs that advocate views he agrees with. Who could stop him?
Another really effective way average Americans can “be heard” is to contact their congressman directly and let them know what they think. In fact, politicians are more likely to pay attention to what their constituents think than anything else. This is where average Americans have a huge advantage over billionaires. Billionaires may have more to spend on political ads. But in the voting booth, they have no more power than anyone else. Contrary to the Left’s ridiculous assertions, the wealthy can’t buy elections. Each voter is in the booth alone. No matter what, it’s still one-man-one-vote. Politicians know that, which is why they always have their finger on the pulse of their constituents. Go ahead, give your congressman a piece of your mind. Neither the Koch brothers or George Soros can stop you.
There is, however, someone who can get in your way; your very own “protectors”—statist politicians themselves. As I wrote:
Only the government, with its law-making powers, can “drown out” a person’s voice, and any attempt by government to legally restrict any person’s freedom to spend his own money for the purpose of advocating his viewpoint is an attack on everyone’s First Amendment rights.
That’s what the fraudulently labeled Democracy for All amendment will do. In the name of “everyday Americans’ right to be heard,” the amendment shrinks every American’s chance to be heard.
The “flooding of the airwaves” is exactly what the democratic process demands. Anyone with the financial means to broadcast ideas to a wide national audience adds to the public discourse and debate, providing a true “public service”. Far from “drowning out” the voice of the average American, big money in politics brings relevant political issues to the public forefront, gives voice to millions of everyday people, and fosters debate in coffee houses, around kitchen tables, in social media, in online debate forums, in newspaper letters sections—anywhere ordinary people gather to chat. This amendment will deprive all people of access to ideas and information about candidates and issues they may not have known much or anything about, and the chance to debate them. Contrary to the alleged intent of the amendments’ proponents, their amendment will drown out public and private debate for all Americans, and subvert the electoral process.
Anyone who supports the disastrous Democracy for All amendment and others like it is either ignorant, an intellectual coward, or a proponent of statist tyranny.
Political “Left” and “Right” Properly Defined - The Objective Standard—Craig Biddle