Is a Donation Speech?

by Dan Ward

I expect today’s Supreme Court decision striking limits on individual donations to political campaigns will draw a lot of attention.

Any decision regarding campaign finance in today’s hyper-partisan political environment leads the networks and blogs into a state of frenzy (Will it take Flight 370 off the CNN home page?  Here’s hoping.).

The decision holds that “Congress may not regulate contributions simply to reduce the amount of money in politics, or to restrict the political participation of some in order to enhance the relative influence of others.”

My take?  I support the decision.  Limiting the influence of big-money donors may be a laudable goal, but not if it abridges the rights afforded to citizens under the First Amendment.

As Chief Justice Roberts writes in his opinion, “Money in politics may at times seem repugnant to some, but so too does much of what the First Amendment vigorously protects.  If the First Amendment protects flag burning, funeral protests and Nazi parades – despite the profound offense such spectacles cause – it surely protects political campaign speech despite popular opposition.”

I’m in the business of helping people and companies express themselves, so it’s no surprise I support free speech rights.  If a cause is important and people need help communicating their message, they shouldn’t be limited in what they can spend to seek counsel.  We deal in the court of public opinion, but imagine if the same thinking that leads to limits in campaign spending were applied to the court of law … should big-money defendants not be allowed to spend unlimited amounts on their defense?

Some believe the public interest of limiting the influence of big-money donors outweighs the First Amendment concerns.  Others may question whether this is even a First Amendment issue (Is a donation “speech?”).

What’s your opinion?  Do you agree with the majority or with the dissenters who hold that “today’s decision eviscerates our nation’s campaign finance laws?”

One Response to Is a Donation Speech?

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