Senators Enzi and Reed
June 18, 1997
in this forum:
Will campaign finance be reformed? How should OSHA be reformed? Are Congressional investigators caught in a Catch-22? How should campaign financing be changed? Doesn't campaign reform violate the First Amendment?
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A question from Albert Green of Richmond, VA:
I understand that reforms are needed in the way we finance out elections. However, doesn't any substantial change (as in public financing of elections) run counter to the First Amendment's protection of free speech?
Senator Enzi responds:
Thanks for the question Albert. There are a number of first amendment questions raised with the recent proposals to change the campaign finance laws. The Supreme Court held in a 1976 case, Buckley v. Valeo, that most political expenditures constitute "speech" and therefore fall under the protection of the First Amendment. Consequently, any measure that would limit individual expenditures for one's own campaign are unconstitutional. Similarly, any expenditure for "issue advocacy" cannot be limited by Congress since such expenditures constitute "speech" under the first amendment. Issue advocacy involves advertising for a particular issue as opposed to explicitly endorsing or opposing a candidate.
I believe that the focus of any change to the campaign finance laws should be to provide for greater participation by the voting public while requiring full disclosure of campaign contributions.
Thank you for your participation in this online forum.
Senator Reed responds:
The First Amendment provides freedom of expression protections for all Americans; it does not provide anyone the right to buy an election. Indeed, the Supreme Court has been clear in many rulings that Congress can limit the amount of money in campaigns if such limits alleviate a significant risk of corruption.
With regard to your specific question on public financing, currently qualifying Presidential candidates receive public financing. The Supreme Court has validated this arrangement. Several other reform proposals, such as banning soft money, lowering contribution limits, and better regulating so-called issue advocacy are also clearly constitutional. While reform opponents attempt to use the First Amendment as a shield, the simple fact is that Members of Congress can take a variety of steps to reform the system if they are willing.