We are living through the first election season since the Supreme Court's disastrous Citizens United ruling which overturned more than a century of precedent to lift all restrictions limiting corporate and union spending on political advertising.
My Debate with Donald Trump: Why Money is Different Than Speech
The full ramifications of the decision will not be clear for years but it is painfully obvious that the Supreme Court's logic of classifying political spending (money) as speech - and granting political advertisements First Amendment protection - is grossly flawed.
Every person has the physical ability to speak, and that right should be protected by the First Amendment. On the other hand, not everyone has enough money to fund political advertising. Because of this inherently uneven playing field, rules limiting political spending by corporations and individuals are necessary. If not, the rich - individuals and corporations - will have a greater say in American politics than the rest of the country.
Imagine if Donald Trump and I were having a debate in a high school gymnasium and each had five minutes to stand on our soap box and make our points. I would have the same ability to win that debate as The Donald.
Now what would happen if that debate only took place over the airwaves where each of us had to buy 30-second advertising spots worth $5,000 a piece to get our messages out. Who would win the debate then? No offense to my blogging paychecks but I think Mr. Trump would have a slight edge.
Freedom of speech is just that - freedom to express our opinions - and nothing more. Once money is injected into the equation, everything changes. When debates become spending contests, like our current electoral process, then we need reasonable restrictions on corporate spending to make sure that all voices can be heard - instead of only the ones with the deepest pockets.
Corporations are the Donald Trumps of the political process and many have the ability to outspend those who oppose their agendas due to their sizable balance sheets. The interests of an individual corporation may very well be contrary to the public good and they should not be given a blank check to spend their way to victory. I'm not saying that every corporation will use the new rules for mischief but the potential is there.
Let's say there is an election in New York City and one candidate is in favor of strong financial reform of Wall Street and another is not. It would not be difficult to imagine big banks spending millions of dollars on ads to bury the candidate they perceive as hostile to their interests - whether or not it benefits the public. Without similar special interest support, the candidate opposed to the banks would be at a serious disadvantage. This scenario is not healthy for our democracy.
It should be evident to all Americans - right and left alike - that money and speech are two different things and should be treated differently under the law. If it cost money to speak in our daily lives we'd have much more thoughtful conversation in this country.
Contact Jeremy Berrington at firstname.lastname@example.org
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