Issue 93, Spring 2004
Your winter issue of Censorship News carried an article in Views on the News by Joan Bertin about campaign finance reform which states that "it is premature to declare the decision by the Supreme Court, largely upholding the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 a ‘win’ or a ‘loss’ for the First Amendment." I was startled and disappointed by this view. The BCRA is, by almost any standard, a blow to the First Amendment. It restricts a whole new category of speech and is already functioning as a form of government-imposed censorship. When added to all the other exceptions to protected speech the Court has approved, the impact could be staggering.
Supporters of this law argue that the role of money in politics has a corrupting influence, or at least appears to. But there is little direct evidence of such corruption and appearances, surely, do not justify chilling speech.
The BCRA, on the other hand, increases corruption. It places no limits on the amount that wealthy candidates can spend on political speech on their own behalf; it also, in the words of the First Amendment Center, "unfairly burdens the cash-strapped candidate, who must pledge not to use ‘attack ads’ to get reduced broadcast rates, while his better off opponent does not have to make such a pledge." Meanwhile billionaires are funding "527" organizations through which their political views will be made known. In other words, the BRCA will do very little to reduce the importance of money in politics. On the other hand, it does a great deal to curtail and threaten free expression.
Surely the NCAC should be concerned about such a fundamental narrowing of First Amendment rights.