|Briefing Paper No. 31||July 4, 1997|
by Douglas Johnson and Mike Beard
Douglas Johnson is legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee. Mike Beard is president of the Free Speech Coalition, an umbrella organization of diverse issue-oriented groups that are working together to protect the First Amendment rights of nonprofit organizations. He also heads the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
Lawmakers of both parties have proposed "campaign reform" bills that would curtail the right of corporations (including issue-oriented advocacy organizations) and labor unions to communicate with the public about those who hold or seek public office. The really important question for congressional supporters of the various proposals is this: where in the world do you think you get the authority to regulate the political speech of American citizens?
Those proposals violate the First Amendment, which the Supreme Court has repeatedly held to provide the highest degree of protection for issue advocacy, including explicit commentary on the merits, positions, and actions of officeholders and office seekers. The right to attempt to persuade our fellow citizens of the issues they should weigh in casting their votes is as fundamental as the right to vote.
Unfortunately, the news media have generally been promoting speech-restrictive proposals rather than defending the First Amendment--the nation's paramount "election law."
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© 1997 The Cato Institute
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