Today there are many threats to the individual’s right to free speech. Observe, for example, those who want to use so-called campaign finance laws to regulate and, thereby, suppress speech during political elections. Some even want to overturn Supreme Court decisions that properly recognize the free speech of organizations and corporations.
Recently, I debated Professor Rick L. Hasen of UC Irvine School of Law at a Federalist Society event at Southwestern School of Law in LA. The subject was campaign finance law, and Professor Hasen took the opportunity to outline the case he makes in his new book, Plutocrats United: Campaign Money, the Supreme Court, and the Distortion of American Elections. From the title, you might guess that he is both not a fan of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and that he thinks money in politics is leading to a kind of plutocracy, in which the wealthy end up influencing government far out of proportion to everyone else.
Cronyism is on everyone’s lips these days. The conventional view is that wealthy “special interests” — typically businesses — use their resources to influence elections and “game the system.” The result is special favors for them at the expense of everyone else. Ours is a government not of, by, and for the people, this view holds, but of, by, and for the “special interests.” Our system is not capitalism, they claim, but “crony-capitalism.”
Economist John Cochrane has a terrific op-ed on inequality in The Wall Street Journal in which he identifies money in politics as the chief target of the inequality warriors, as he calls the critics of income inequality. When you get past their bogus economic arguments, says Cochran, “most inequality warriors get down to the real problem they see: money in politics. They think money is corrupting politics, and they want to take away the money to purify the politics.”
Freedom of speech is under siege. Not by the “amplified” voices of billionaires and corporations, but by the sundry spokesmen for “the public” demanding that government should have the power to silence individuals via campaign finance laws.
Two weeks ago, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on whether to amend the First Amendment in response to Citizens United and other campaign finance decisions that allegedly allow the rich to “buy” elections and prevent “ordinary” Americans from being heard.