The people who want to impose more restrictions on money in politics often say they are not against free speech.
No, they say, they simply want to bring about a better balance between free speech and other important values like preventing corruption of government or participation in our democracy. Justice Stephen Breyer of the U.S. Supreme Court is the most well-known advocate of this argument.
It all sounds so moderate, balanced, and reasonable.
As it turns out, the most notable and politically powerful advocate of campaign finance restrictions would strike a different balance with free speech – one that is neither moderate, nor reasonable, nor constitutional.
Sen. John McCain said recently on Imus in the Morning:
“He [talk show host Michael Graham] also mentioned my abridgement of First Amendment rights, i.e. talking about campaign finance reform….I know that money corrupts….I would rather have a clean government than one where quote First Amendment rights are being respected, that has become corrupt. If I had my choice, I’d rather have the clean government.”
For McCain, clean government is an absolute value. When it comes to money, laws that prevent corruption of the government thus take priority over all else, including freedom of speech. After all, money is the root of all corruption, and “clean government” is worth any cost, especially if it’s paying for political speech someone like McCain doesn’t want to hear in the first place. Thus the McCain-Feingold law shuts down the speech of businesses, labor unions, and other groups with the tendency to attack incumbents during election season.
Once again, John McCain reminds us why the U.S. Constitution states rather clearly that the government “shall make no law…abridging freedom of speech.”