Saturday, December 01, 2007

Free Speech, Free Association, and Campaign Finance Laws

Jacob Sullum asked this question on the Reason blog yesterday- Does Free Association Limit Free Speech?

According to the post, is a "nonpartisan independent speech group that supports free speech and associational rights." It doesn't support any particular party or any individual politicians- it only wants to use the donations of the organizations individual members to purchase radio and tv ads to publicly criticize politicians who attack freedom of speech. The legal question is whether this would make them a political committee subject to statutory limitations on donations?

It's a really, really, really good question which highlights some of the many problems of campaign finance laws. I really don't know all that much about the statutory construction, but I do know, as far as Constitutional analysis goes, that the compelling reason to regulate campaign expenditures and electorally related speech is because of the overwhelming concern with corruption and the possibility of corruption. You can see the slippery slope quite clearly with a group like Nearly everyone in this country would not have a problem with an individual spending money to say "Senator So and So is bad on free speech issues." But if that's not a problem, why should it be a problem when a group of people pool their money to say the exact same thing?

One of the commenters on the Reason blog, Joe, makes a ridiculous point in pointing out that park and parade permits are also regulations of freedom of association. It's ridiculous because when it comes to use of public space, the number of people using that space truly is a concern- The space must be used equitably and there are public health and safety concerns. Yes, there is an impact on associational rights and on speech, but this is now different than the impact of laws that regulate what frequencies broadcasters can use- both regulations of space, not speech and not people.

And seeing this is a campaign finance issue, let me throw in this obligatory remark- the problem with campaign finance reform is that it takes power away from the people and hands it back to the existing Democrat/Republican power structure- it makes it more difficult for ordinary people to change the course of party politics and makes it even more impossible to compete outside that two-party structure.


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