Political Speech Should Not Be Limited

Spending by section 527 organizations does not corrupt the legislative process

April 3, 2006

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WASHINGTON — This week, the House of Representatives is scheduled to take up a measure to limit spending by so-called 527 groups. But restricting the speech of independent organizations on vaguely egalitarian grounds ignores the Supreme Court’s clear instruction that limiting the voice of some to enhance the relative voice of others is foreign to the First Amendment, according to a study released today by the Cato Institute.

In the Cato Briefing Paper “Free Speech and the 527 Prohibition,”  Stephen M. Hoersting, the executive director of the Center for Competitive Politics, argues that proponents of measures to make independent section 527 organizations into “political committees” under the Federal Election Campaign Act, misunderstand both the role and result of regulation in campaigns and the jurisprudence in this area.

“Spending by section 527 organizations does not corrupt the legislative process because there is no nexus to lawmakers,” Hoersting writes. “It does not corrupt the balloting process. And spending by section 527 organizations does not corrupt the process of information exchange in the run up to the election. Indeed, spending by section 527 organizations is an integral part of the process of information exchange. And the information exchange needs to be open, robust and uninhibited.”

Hoersting explains that political free trade is both the norm and normative prescription for a healthy and constitutional political system in America, and it does not necessarily require that all who participate in the political marketplace do so with exactly equal resources.

“ ‘Soft money’ is merely money not regulated by the Federal Election Commission,” he writes. “Attempting to ‘ban soft money’ is like attempting to ‘ban darkness.’ The question in the first case is where else to apply federal regulation, just as the question in the second is where to shine additional light.”

“Independent organizations do not corrupt the legislative process. They are not corrupting the balloting process. They are a part of, not corrupters of, the information exchange process in and around elections,” Hoersting concludes. “More speech is what is needed, not less.”

Briefing Paper no. 96