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Money = Speech?
Posted: 15 January 2012 04:27 AM   [ Ignore ]
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There is some controversy over the concept that money is equal to speech, especially in the political realm. Nightly, Stephen Colbert uses his Viacom show to advocate against people using corporate money for advocacy.  Here is my question: What regulations should be enacted—within a framework that protects free speech—to actualize the liberal policy that money spent on advocacy is not protected speech?

Can the government say that you have the right to express any opinion you wish, so long as you don’t spend a penny doing so?

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Posted: 15 January 2012 06:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Charles Collom - 15 January 2012 04:27 AM

There is some controversy over the concept that money is equal to speech, especially in the political realm. Nightly, Stephen Colbert uses his Viacom show to advocate against people using corporate money for advocacy.  Here is my question: What regulations should be enacted—within a framework that protects free speech—to actualize the liberal policy that money spent on advocacy is not protected speech?

Can the government say that you have the right to express any opinion you wish, so long as you don’t spend a penny doing so?

Right. You are free to say what you want, but not free to spend money to have a million people say what you want, or to plaster billboards saying what you want, etc. It’s a trivial distinction.

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Posted: 15 January 2012 11:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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First step would be to get rid of the corporation = person insanity.  Second, get rid of the anonimity allowed for Political Action Committees.  Third, limit all campaign contributions (including the indirect ones such as advertising) to, say, $100 unless the entity is willing to contribute an equal amount to the other side(s). 

While the First Amendment is essential, the framers had no idea of radio, television, the Internet, mass distribution of newpapers and mail nor corporate or overseas involvement in elections and legislation.  They wrote it to address the society and technology of their time.  It could be rewritten to be updated but still allow the personal freedom it embodies.

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Posted: 15 January 2012 02:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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What part of corporate personhood should be abolished? Capacity to enter into contract? Standing to enforce those contracts? Collective bargaining? Other than speech, what constitutional rights do individuals give up by forming a voluntary collective such as a corporation? Assembly? Search and Seizure? Religion?

If I donate $100 to the John Smith for President campaign, can I then rent a billboard saying, “Vote for John Smith, he’s swell?” Can I rent 10 or 100 or 10,000 billboards? Can I buy a sandwich board and go stand on the streetcorner? Can I pay 10 people to join me? Can people who agree with me buy the sandwich boards for me? Can they just give me the money?

It is self apparent that money spent on political advocacy *is* speech.  The right to speech contains a reciprocal “right to hear.”  When limitations are placed upon the right to disseminate an opinion there is a concomitant restriction placed on the listeners’ ability to hear and decide for him or herself.

People with more money will be able to disseminate their opinion to a wider audience, but it was ever so. The framers lived in a world where the best technology of the day was the (rather expensive) printing press.  We live in a world where anyone can go into a public library and start a blog (or podcast, or video blog) that is accessible by billions of people. How is it that freedom of speech must be curtailed at this point in history—a point at which almost anyone in America has unlimited access to an international media platform?

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Posted: 15 January 2012 03:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Saying something or writing it down is one thing. Paying out of my own pocket to do something like put up a billboard or print a pamphlet is another. The first is supported under the Constitution; the second should not be. (Or at least, not always. It should be regulated under certain, limited conditions).

If there is a “right to hear”, it should be a right to hear all opinions, not merely those opinions had by the wealthy.  There are only so many minutes in a hearer’s day, and if the wealthy crowd out the others by buying up time on the airwaves, plastering posters over every wall and so on, then I will not hear all opinions, and will in fact be aware only of those put up by the wealthy. Do I not have the right to hear the others as well?

That said, I think restrictions on funding should be targeted at electioneering in particular, because of its outsized capacity for corrupting the political process. How exactly to write them into law I have no idea, but I expect that it could be done.

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Posted: 15 January 2012 03:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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dougsmith - 15 January 2012 03:13 PM

Saying something or writing it down is one thing. Paying out of my own pocket to do something like put up a billboard or print a pamphlet is another. The first is supported under the Constitution; the second should not be. (Or at least, not always. It should be regulated under certain, limited conditions).

Did you not buy the pen and paper?

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Posted: 15 January 2012 03:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Charles Collom - 15 January 2012 03:16 PM

Did you not buy the pen and paper?

Well, clearly it’s incorrect to assert that that spending any money at all on speech (or anything speech-related) is problematic. But I don’t know anyone who would argue that.

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Posted: 15 January 2012 03:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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dougsmith - 15 January 2012 03:13 PM

If there is a “right to hear”, it should be a right to hear all opinions, not merely those opinions had by the wealthy.

How are you kept from hearing minority opinions now?  Are you honestly telling me that you are *unable* to research public policy debates right now because of corporate money?

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Posted: 15 January 2012 03:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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dougsmith - 15 January 2012 03:21 PM
Charles Collom - 15 January 2012 03:16 PM

Did you not buy the pen and paper?

Well, clearly it’s incorrect to assert that that spending any money at all on speech (or anything speech-related) is problematic. But I don’t know anyone who would argue that.

My point is that the people who get to decide how much speech is enough are going to have a hell of a lot of control over all discourse.

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Posted: 15 January 2012 03:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Charles Collom - 15 January 2012 03:22 PM
dougsmith - 15 January 2012 03:13 PM

If there is a “right to hear”, it should be a right to hear all opinions, not merely those opinions had by the wealthy.

How are you kept from hearing minority opinions now?  Are you honestly telling me that you are *unable* to research public policy debates right now because of corporate money?

Would I be *unable* if there were restrictions on how much one could spend on advertising and electioneering? It costs virtually nothing to set up a website.

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Posted: 15 January 2012 03:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Charles Collom - 15 January 2012 03:23 PM

My point is that the people who get to decide how much speech is enough are going to have a hell of a lot of control over all discourse.

So long as they can’t dictate content, I don’t see the problem. And they wouldn’t be dictating content by limiting expenditures across the board.

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Posted: 15 January 2012 03:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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dougsmith - 15 January 2012 03:45 PM
Charles Collom - 15 January 2012 03:22 PM
dougsmith - 15 January 2012 03:13 PM

If there is a “right to hear”, it should be a right to hear all opinions, not merely those opinions had by the wealthy.

How are you kept from hearing minority opinions now?  Are you honestly telling me that you are *unable* to research public policy debates right now because of corporate money?

Would I be *unable* if there were restrictions on how much one could spend on advertising and electioneering? It costs virtually nothing to set up a website.

I don’t know if you would be unable as I do not know how far the restrictions would go in real world implementation. Keep in mind that there is absolutely no way to guarantee that your party is the one who decides how much speech is enough.

But this is not part of my argument. I am contending that all persons can speak and be heard and that there is no justification for restrictions on advocacy beyond wanting to silence opinions with which you disagree.

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Posted: 15 January 2012 03:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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dougsmith - 15 January 2012 03:47 PM
Charles Collom - 15 January 2012 03:23 PM

My point is that the people who get to decide how much speech is enough are going to have a hell of a lot of control over all discourse.

So long as they can’t dictate content, I don’t see the problem. And they wouldn’t be dictating content by limiting expenditures across the board.

None of this answers my questions. How do you limit “expenditures across the board?” Once someone has reached the “limit” is he precluded from filling up his gas tank to drive to the next rally? Can he buy that extra ream of printer paper to make his pamphlets?

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Posted: 15 January 2012 08:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Charles Collom - 15 January 2012 03:16 PM
dougsmith - 15 January 2012 03:13 PM

Saying something or writing it down is one thing. Paying out of my own pocket to do something like put up a billboard or print a pamphlet is another. The first is supported under the Constitution; the second should not be. (Or at least, not always. It should be regulated under certain, limited conditions).

Did you not buy the pen and paper?

It seems to me there is a difference between buying a pen and paper and buying an entire news organization. This disparity becomes evident in the personal public debates by the candidates. The gloss of the “biography” and “accomplishments” wears out quickly when the candidate actually has to present “himself”. If it were not for public debates, no one would know the person hidden behind the propaganda.

Whereas speech itself is a direct expression of one’s feelings and opinions, it’s free expression thereof is justly protected by law, but it also places certain legal responsibilities. False advertising is prohibited by law.
If I write an opinion on a piece of paper and sign it, I am responsible for its content. If I want to to place an anonymous personal ad in a news paper, I am still required by law to identify myself to that newspaper.

OTOH, money is a means of exchange (quid pro quo), a public arms length transaction (contract) between the donor and the recipient. When this transaction is with a third party on behalf of the intended beneficiary, it should be made public as such, or power of attorney should be granted to the third party acting on behalf of the eventual beneficiary. Anonymous speech cannot claim freedom of speech, as an anonymous speaker cannot be held accountable and sued in case of say, slander.  Even the internet has restrictions in that regard
How many times do candidates make the disclaimer “I had nothing to do with this ad”? But the false message is “out there” in public view and the damage is done. Comes to mind the movie “Without malice”.

One solution is to make the candidate personally endorse any and all advertisements on his/her behalf. This can be done by a simple public endorsement of the content or a public legal power of attorney give to the third party. Only then can we be sure that this type of speech is in accordance with the candidates personal convictions for which he/she can be held accountable.

I guess I am arguing for “transparency”.

[ Edited: 15 January 2012 08:45 PM by Write4U ]
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Posted: 15 January 2012 09:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Charles Collom - 15 January 2012 03:55 PM

Once someone has reached the “limit” is he precluded from filling up his gas tank to drive to the next rally? Can he buy that extra ream of printer paper to make his pamphlets?

Depends how the law is written. But arguing that there are dumb ways to write the law is not an argument that there are no good ways to write the law.

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Posted: 15 January 2012 09:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Charles Collom - 15 January 2012 04:27 AM

There is some controversy over the concept that money is equal to speech, especially in the political realm. Nightly, Stephen Colbert uses his Viacom show to advocate against people using corporate money for advocacy.  Here is my question: What regulations should be enacted—within a framework that protects free speech—to actualize the liberal policy that money spent on advocacy is not protected speech?

Can the government say that you have the right to express any opinion you wish, so long as you don’t spend a penny doing so?

The central problem, as I see it, of equating money with free speech, is that it can have the effect of rendering the free speech rights of anyone who has little money, essentially meaningless. 

1) I would suggest that we make it illegal for anyone lobbying a public official to be paid for doing so.

2) I would suggest that during election seasons, that on radio and TV, any presentation that supports a particular candidate only be aired if equal time is provided for for a presentation that supports opposing candidates.

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