In the campaign finance reform liturgy, the quest for equality is often accompanied by the reduction of corruption. Thus, the second purported aim of Sen. Udall’s amendment is “to protect the integrity of the legislative and electoral processes.” Over the last forty years of campaign finance jurisprudence, limits on how much contributors may give to a politician generally have been accepted as a legitimate means to prevent corruption. But limits on spending have never been justified on such pretexts, and for good reason. Suppose the publisher of Ralph Nader’s “Unsafe at Any Speed” had been limited by law as to how much it could spend to publish his exposé of the auto industry’s wrongdoing. Under what anticorruption theory could such spending limits possibly be defensible?
If candidates, political parties, and advocacy groups are limited in how much they may spend to expose their adversaries’ malfeasance, then the media will be left as the public’s primary source of such information. Naturally, Sen. Udall’s amendment provides that “[n]othing in this article shall be construed to grant Congress the power to abridge the freedom of the press.” Thus, it seems that, under the amendment’s mantle of “political equality,” some speakers are more equal than others. But if there is one thing that critics like Noam Chomsky on the left and Brent Bozell on the right both agree on, it is that the media cannot necessarily be relied on as an impartial source of information.
While Sen. Udall is probably well-intentioned in sponsoring his constitutional amendment, its effects cannot be ignored. Quite simply, the proposal would limit political speech, thereby favoring the political and media establishment and undermining the very core of our constitutional structure.
Eric Wang is a political law attorney and Senior Fellow with the Center for Competitive Politics.