First Amendment Politics

A funny thing happened in less than three weeks between the Iowa and Nevada caucuses that revealed the sad truth that First Amendment politics are more about gaining a competitive advantage than true concern about the freedom of political speech and association.

Union members in Iowa were told by the campaign manager of one of the leading Democratic candidates that advocacy being conducted by their organizations constitute a "loophole" in campaign finance law that was of an "underhanded nature" and "deserves further scrutiny."

Later, after earning major union endorsements in Nevada, the SAME candidate strongly defended the role of unions in the political process.

The candidate, speaking before the union about legal efforts to disrupt the Nevada caucus process, asked, "Are we going to let a bunch of lawyers try to prevent US from bringing about change in America?"

Of course, any close observer of campaign finance and election law could tell you that lawyers are always using campaign finance laws to try to gain an electoral advantage.

Just yesterday, the CCP blog highlighted that efforts by Unity08 to encourage a viable third-party candidate were thwarted by campaign finance laws.  Earlier this week the Supreme Court announced it will hear a case addressing one of the most egregious forms of campaign finance law designed to give electoral advantage – the Millionaire’s Amendment.

Even non-candidate political committees take to campaign finance laws to gain an edge over their opponents.  In October, CCP noted that "a citizen group in North Carolina is under investigation by the state Board of Elections after daring to criticize one of the state’s political parties."

Meanwhile, the conservative Virginia Club for Growth filed an election complaint over mailings sent by the Democratic party on behalf of a Virginia delegate candidate and California democrats filed a complaint against Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign.

Even tiny Dewey Beach, DE was embroiled in a political speech battle when one local political action committee complained that a fellow citizens group failed to file proper paperwork. 

From the presidential level to the local level, and from the serious to the absurd, it is clear that the use of campaign finance laws as political tools is a disturbing trend.  If only this country’s founders had thought to include a safeguard against the use of government action to silence one’s political opponents…

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