Charity on June 27th, 2006

Despite my dramatic comments in response to my last post, it seems that there is still some level of respect for the constitution of this country (though it is not from the legislators).

The Supreme Court of the United States struck down Vermont’s campaign finance law, ruling it unconstitutional in that it limits free speech.

Attorney General William Sorrell, who championed the law, had this to say,

“It’s not totally unexpected, but it’s disappointing.”

“Why was it not totally unexpected?” you might ask. Why, because the law violated The Constitution. He knew that, but hoped that the Supreme Court would over look that paltry little detail the way Vermont’s courts and politicians have become so adept at doing.

Sorrell also said,

“This is a major disappointment for people all over the country who think there’s too much money in politics.”

No, this is only a major disappointment for people who think there is too much money in politics and think the only solution is subverting The Constitution.

Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, Had this to say,

“I think it’s a sad day for democracy in Vermont.”

Yes, Paul, upholding The Constitution is sad, indeed. Good ol’ VPIRG. You’ve gotta love those guys.

This law did nothing to preserve democracy. In fact, one could argue that the law is damaging to democracy. The law gives a decided advantage to incumbents and those with established name recognition. I fail to see how limiting the ability of a newcomer to get the message out is good for democracy.

If you ask me, this is a good day for our country and our constitution. It’s about time.

18 Responses to “The Constitution is not dead yet”

  1. Yup, the best democracy money can buy. I can’t afford freedom of speech, can you?

  2. The Vermont Libertarian Party, one of the parties involved with the case, now has a press release available, which also includes audio commentary from our state chair, Hardy Machia, about the decision. For more info, click the link above.

  3. Hmmm. Actually, since this blog doesn’t cost me a thing – nor does my show on channel 17 – I guess I can afford free speech.

    Let me put it this way. Back in the fall, Congressman Sanders sent out a legislative update in the mail to everyone, which contained his criticisms of the Bush administration, et al. The only difference between it (viewable here) and a piece of campaign literature was that it was paid for with our tax dollars and considered constituent communication, not campaign literature. The content was essentially the same, but it would not have counted toward any spending limit, should such a thing ever make it through the Supreme Court.

    Now say Joe No-Name comes along and wants to challenge Congressman Sanders. Mr. No-Name is restricted by the campaign spending limits, while Sanders (and other incumbents) have a free ride with tax-payer funded constituent communications. No-Name has no chance because he can’t even spend enough to get his name and positions out there.

    Not only that, but no one can really criticize the incumbent’s votes or positions because there is not enough money for a challenger to do that and get out his own message.

    Democracy? I think not.

  4. “Mr. No-Name is restricted by the campaign spending limits, while Sanders (and other incumbents) have a free ride with tax-payer funded constituent communications.”

    Are you saying that Sanders (and other incumbents) win elections because of their “taxpayer funded constituent communications”?

  5. “Are you saying that Sanders (and other incumbents) win elections because of their ‘taxpayer funded constituent communications’?”

    It’s obviously impossible to make that determination definitively. Are you saying it’s not an advantage?

  6. “Are you saying it’s not an advantage?”

    Is that an answer to my question?

  7. No, the first of my two sentences was.

  8. “Are you saying that Sanders (and other incumbents) win elections because of their “taxpayer funded constituent communications”?”

    I am saying that there is a definite advantage to being an incumbent and that advantage is much less likely to be overcome with a limit put on the challenger’s spending.

    Bernie got a four-page color campaign flier printed and mailed at taxpayer expense. How can you say that is not an advantage?

    Not only that, but there is a media advantage, too. Ever notice how much more often elected officials show up in the news with all of their accomplishments nearing a re-election?

    A challenger needs to be able to overcome those advantages with money.

    When I told someone from the Tarrant campaign early-early on that I supported Greg Parke because he is more in line with my views on many issues, the response was “But Greg Parke will never be able to raise enough money to overcome Bernie’s name recognition and get his message out.”

    A career politician such as Bernie - or Leahy or anyone - cannot be adequately challenged without the challenger being allowed to spend lots of money to get his mane and message out.

  9. Oops, that should say get his name and message out!

  10. “How can you say that is not an advantage?”

    Who said that?

    Fact is, while you’re celebrating victory and waving the constitution in the air, you’re stomping the original under your feet.

    Here’s another fact: incumbents win 80% of the time. This includes states without such an “unconstitutional” law such as Vermont’s. It’s the nature of politics. Incumbents get media attention, government resources (i.e. Tom Delay got Homeland Security to track Dems’ planes), and status. Each and every challenger faces an uphill battle when campaigning against an incumbent.

    But you’re telling readers that they would be hindered further by having both contenders have a ceiling to how much money they can prostitute? It is clear that more average working people would run for office were they not dissuaded by the ridiculous amounts of money wielded by those who have it.

    The bigger question becomes whether spending limits (& contribution limits) are constitutional. The latest court opinion was far from decisive in stating that campaign spending limits were unconstitutional. On the contrary, the Supreme Court only ruled that Vermont’s limits were too low.

    Only two justices - guess who - went on the record as being opposed to ANY limits. Seven justices purposefully did not parrot that sentiment. Three of those justices supported Vermont’s limits.

    The key part was this statement by Breyer: “The respondents have not shown, for example, any dramatic increase in corruption or its appearances in Vermont; nor have they shown that expenditure limits are the only way to attack that problem.” This is a direct reflection on how poorly Vermont is represented by Bill Sorrell. He failed to prove what all of us know.

  11. “He failed to prove what all of us know.”

    Please enlighten us then - provide a single example of “corruption or its appearances in Vermont” that can only be remedied with the campaign spending law at issue.

  12. GTB, when you are running for office, your speech is equal to the amount of money you spend. If you can’t afford commercials, ads, fliers, etc., you are essentially silenced. Caps on campaign spending are limits on the candidate’s free speech.

    My understanding was that the limit for individual contributions was deemed too low, but that the overall cap on the campaign was totally shot down because that limits the candidate’s free speech.

    I could be wrong, I suppose. It does happen on occasion.

  13. “Please enlighten us then….”

    I will restate the problem as I see it: “It is clear that more average working people would run for office were they not dissuaded by the ridiculous amounts of money wielded by those who have it.”

    Money corrupts. Not that all those who have money are corrupt, but the average person is not represented when unlimited money is allowed into a campaign.

    “Caps on campaign spending are limits on the candidate’s free speech.”

    Two Supreme Court justices appear to agree with you (Scalia & Thomas).

  14. Banning free speech (just as with the flag burning amendment) is trying to fix a symptom and not the problem.

    Why are people trying to bribe politicians? People try to bribe politicians because politicians have the ability to sell off government largeness. End the process of allowing politicians to dole out millions of dollars of earmarks/pork. Other solutions might include term limits for politicians so we don’t have a political class who shift from 30 year terms in office to becoming highly paid lobbyists…

  15. I am all for term limits. I think that would go much, much further toward solving the problems than any campaign spending laws.

    I don’t get why the left is supporting this. (1) They are as beholden to special interest money as the right. And (2) They are supposed to care about free speech.

    What gives? Anyone know?

  16. I said:
    “Caps on campaign spending are limits on the candidate’s free speech.”

    Then GTB said:
    “Two Supreme Court justices appear to agree with you (Scalia & Thomas).”

    Now I say:
    Yeah, and four others. It was a 6-3 decision.

    Read it and weep, Texas.

  17. “Yeah, and four others. It was a 6-3 decision.”

    You might want to check your facts again. While the Court decision was 6-3 in favor of striking down Vermont’s campaign limits, it was *far* from a decision that you claim: “Caps on campaign spending are limits on the candidate’s free speech.”

    So to recap, your opinion is that ALL caps on campaign spending infringe on free speech. The Court’s opinion was that Vermont’s Campaign spending limits infringe on free speech. Only two justices in this opinion said that ALL caps are unconstitutional. The other SEVEN left themselves open to accepting limits of some sort (just not Vermont’s as argued by Sorrell).

    In fact, the court had previously set precedent (referenced throughout the opinion you linked) in distinguishing between campaign expenditures and contributions, leaning more towards limits on contributions than expenditures (see Buckley v. Valeo - This latest decision in no way - aside from the opinions of TWO justices - joins your opinion on campaign limts. One thing is certain: there will be more lawsuits to press the Court for clarification on the matter.

    Your turn to read… and weep.

  18. When I said limits on campaign spending, I was talking about expenditures – the spending being done by the campaign. That was ruled to be a limit on the candidate’s free speech in both cases.

    You are right that Thomas and Scalia had a separate opinion, but all of the justices voting with the majority agreed that limits on expenditures were unconstitutional. (The Thomas and Scalia opinion was different in that they thought both expenditures and contributions were 1st amendment violations (in other words, the Buckley decision didn’t go far enough to protect the 1st amendment because it still allowed for limits on contributions.)

    While you are right that I agree with the opinion of Thomas and Scalia, you are wrong that they are the only two that see spending (expenditures) as a limit to the 1st amendment.

    I apologize for the “read it and weep” comment. It was immature.