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Free Speech Needs No Amending

Senate Democrats would restrict fundamental First Amendment rights in an election-year stunt

FreeSpeech_first amendmentAs election season enters full swing, Senate Democrats are taking the opportunity to garner votes by attempting to rewrite the Bill of Rights, something that hasn’t been done since those rights were enshrined. They want to ask the nation to change the First Amendment so that it protects political speech only up to a point.

The timing is right. Nationally eight Senate races have already received more than $10 million each in outside spending, according to the Federal Election Commission. In Michigan, huge amounts of outside money have flooded into the race between Rep. Gary Peters and former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land.

The group of senators supporting such a drastic move know it will never pass the extensive process needed to amend the Constitution. But it gives them an opportunity to try to convince Americans once again that corporations and wealthy individuals who give money to political candidates or campaigns should be stripped of their fundamental right to free speech.

The move is blatantly hypocritical, since the supporting senators have all received huge donations themselves. But it is unfortunately the logical end of the flawed Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (commonly known as McCain-Feingold) signed into law under former President George W. Bush.

The Supreme Court has upheld the principle that the First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech to individuals, organizations and even corporations, and that dedicating time and money to political candidates and causes is protected speech.

Though there are limits on what amount an individual can give to any one political candidate, most other extreme limitations on spending and speech have been struck down by the court.

As much as this debate has already focused on Republican donors – chiefly the Koch brothers, who fund mega-PACs such as Americans for Prosperity, Heritage Action and others – Democrats benefit from huge campaign donations as much, if not more.

Climate change activist Tom Steyer has given more than $20 million to support Democratic candidates in this election cycle. He’s followed by former New York Mayor and gun control activist Michael Bloomberg, who has given more than $9 million this year, almost entirely to liberal groups.

Both sides take money from rich people and corporations. And certainly it would be nice if there were less money in politics.

But the Constitution does not permit politicians to place arbitrary restrictions on speech. Protecting the First Amendment should not give way to those so determined to gain a partisan edge that they are willing to rewrite the fundamental rights of Americans.

This stunt should be seen for what it is: an attempt to embed today’s political divisiveness into America’s most sacred document.