Imagine the government tells you that you can travel as much as you want, but strictly rations the amount of gasoline you are permitted to use in your vehicle. You are technically allowed to go where you want, but your real ability to travel is limited because you need gasoline to go places efficiently. The same is true with both contribution and spending limits in political campaigns – candidates might be allowed to speak but they need to spend money in order to send direct mail, buy radio and TV advertisements, put up billboards, print campaign literature and so forth.
Whether you like it or not, money is speech.
The Supreme Court is considering arguments about whether the aggregate contribution limits to all candidates should be illegal or whether they should stay in place.
Last week, Ruth Bader Ginsburg made the following statement in the New York Times:
“By having these limits, you are promoting democratic participation,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said. “Then the little people will count some and you won’t have the super-affluent as the speakers that will control the elections.”
This is shameful. Ginsburg is making a policy argument here, not addressing any legal or constitutional issues. It is not Ginsburg’s job to decide policy and it is wholly inappropriate for her to be basing her legal rulings on her public policy preferences. If she wants to shape public policy, she should have sought elective office as a member of Congress or she should have ran for President. Deciding this case based on her views on policy rather than the law demonstrates Ginsburg is in open rebellion against the authority of the Constitution. She should be impeached.
One of the reasons for contribution limits to individual candidates is to prevent corruption. But because the contribution limits are so low, members of Congress must spend a great deal of time fundraising. This is compounded by the fact that they are elected every two years and races for Congress can be very expensive, especially if there are a couple of large media markets that serve the district. The 8th District in Indiana is served by Terre Haute, Indianapolis and Evansville, for example. As is so often the case, government creates more problems by “solving” another one.
Even if the contribution limits were abolished, it would not “legalize corruption” as some claim. Pay-to-play is already illegal. The last 15 years has brought something to campaigns that was not there before – reporting of campaign contributions on the Internet via the FEC website. In the past, people had to count on newspapers to report who was donating money and how the candidates were spending it. Now any individual with a computer can look it up himself and immediately share it on Facebook.
The rationale for overall limits on contributions, however, is weaker. Spending money on multiple candidates in multiple races is much less likely to promote corruption than contribution limits to individual candidates. If the government is going to restrict our rights, it needs to provide a concrete explanation as to why the civil magistrate needs to step in and back up those claims with hard evidence.
The evidence is not there in this case and the overall contribution limits should be struck down.