Harry Reid and Senate Democrats are gearing up for a vote on a Constitutional amendment to repeal the First Amendment. Some might say that statement is over the top. Here’s why we disagree.
When trying to figure out the real purpose of a piece of legislation, or a proposed amendment to the Constitution, the first thing we do at Tea Party Patriots is look to see who has cosponsored it. Turns out, over 75% of the Senate Democrats have co-sponsored this bill. Could there be an ulterior motive at play here?
While co-sponsors of this proposed amendment (S.J. Res 19) claim that the purpose is to “advance the fundamental principle of political equality for all,” the consequences of this effort would make it harder for challengers to defeat incumbents. They’re actually proposing to amend the Constitution to allow Congress to set limits on the amount of contributions that can be raised and spent by candidates or by outside groups. The legislation also aims to allow each of the individual states to set the same limits for its races for state office.
The Supreme Court, in Buckley v. Valeo — its bedrock case on the application of the First Amendment to campaigns — overturned major sections of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (as amended in 1974), ruling that political donations are equivalent to political speech. That is, in a modern society, the ability to “speak” with the freedom the Founders intended which requires the employment of mass media communications channels. Moreover, the employment of mass media communications channels requires the raising and spending of vast sums of money. So while the Court let the law’s limits on the amount of money an individual donor can contribute to an individual campaign stand, it overturned the sections of the law that established limits on the amount of money candidates can raise and spend to get elected.
That’s what this proposed amendment is trying to do — put those unconstitutional limits in place, by expressly making them Constitutional, via an amendment to the Constitution.
Here’s why that would be a bad thing: it takes money to defeat incumbents. LOTS of money.
Incumbents begin every year in office with a bank account worth approximately $1.2 million (if they’re a member of the House of Representatives) or MORE than that if they’re a member of the U.S. Senate. That bank account is paid for by the taxpayers, and it’s used to fund their offices on an annual basis. They use that money to hire their communications staff, legislative staff, and constituent services staff. They all work in those different areas for the given Member of Congress, but they all know that their REAL job is very simple: make “The Boss” look good and help get “The Boss” reelected. A good constituent services person helps a member get reelected. A good communications person helps a member get reelected. And a good legislative person helps a member get reelected.
So before an incumbent Member of Congress has ever made his or her first fundraising call, he or she has already started a reelection campaign with the equivalent of $1.2million worth of staff to help him or her get reelected, courtesy of the taxpayer.
THEN you add in all the money an incumbent can raise, simply by virtue of the fact that he or she is an incumbent. Most of the PAC’s in D.C. don’t give for ideological reasons or partisan reasons; they give for reasons of tribute and to make sure they have access to Members of Congress. Labor unions give almost exclusively to Democrats, but business PAC’s split their money down the middle, only slightly favoring whichever party is in power. That’s right — when Democrats were running both House and Senate from 2007-2011, business PAC’s gave more of their contributions to Democrats than to Republicans.
So a Democrat incumbent can count on the vast majority of the money from the Labor Union PAC’s, and about 50% on average of the money from business PAC’s; a GOP incumbent gets close to nothing from Big Labor, and only about half of what big business gives away in campaign contributions.
THEN you add the power of incumbents to generate earned media any time they want, simply by putting out a press release, or holding a press conference, or inviting a local journalist in for a one-on-one interview. Incumbents can generate favorable coverage for themselves back home any time they want, while challengers have to struggle to be taken seriously enough to warrant coverage.
In other words, the deck is stacked very heavily in favor of incumbents.
History shows there’s only one thing that can make a challenger’s challenge serious — and that is, being able to raise and spend LOTS of money.
So this proposed amendment, which aims to allow Congress to establish limits on the amount of money a candidate can raise and spend, and establish limits on the amount of money outside groups can spend, IS an attack on what the Founders meant when they wrote in the First Amendment that “Congress shall make no law abridging … the freedom of speech …” Were this proposed amendment to be enacted, it would, for all intents and purposes, repeal the First Amendment.