If Money is Property, Does the First Amendment Still Matter?

Many proponents of campaign finance regulation reject the fundamental idea that political contributions and spending should be protected under the First Amendment.  "Money," they say, "is not speech, it is property."  Or as John McCain said recently, "I’ve never believed that money was speech. I believe that money is property."  They then equate that as something the Supreme Court has said, and well, since money obviously is property, not speech, opposition based on the First Amendment does look a tad silly, no?

Of course, the Supreme Court has never actually said that "money is speech."  What it has said is that spending money is often instrumental to the ability to communicate one’s message.  So of course restricting campaign spending and contributions restrict speech. 

The simple question for Senator McCain is this:  OK, we agree – money is not speech.  Money is property.  Does that mean that Congress can make it illegal for the New York Times corporation – or anybody – to use property to publish a newspaper?  Is it constitutional to prohibit the use of property to publish books or make movies?  Does the First Amendment have nothing to say if Congress passes a law making it illegal to rent a hall (the use of money – property – to purchase the use of more property) to have a campaign rally?  Can Congress make it illegal for Senator McCain to hire speech writers, or to use property (planes and such) to travel to deliver a political speech?

The answer, of course, is that a law prohibiting the use of property to engage in speech or publication clearly implicates both the right to property and the right to speech.

Call it property, call it speech.  Clearly Constitutional rights are implicated. A rose by any other name will smell as sweet.  And a  turd by any other name will…

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.