Bradley Smith

In his most recent Townhall column, Armstrong Williams has laid out a plan that he claims will "divorce" money from politics. In the process, Williams employs every tired canard of the campaign finance "reform" community.

But a few words were noticeably absent from Williams' column. There was no mention, for example, of "the First Amendment." Nor was there any mention of "free speech." And while I looked for "freedom" and "liberty," alas, these too were absent. This comes as no surprise. Advocates of political speech regulation have for so long felt unconstrained by the First Amendment's seemingly clear command, that "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech," that they now ignore it as a matter of course.

The closest Williams comes to addressing the constitutional problems with campaign finance regulation is the bare assertion that "giving money is not giving voice." But it most certainly is. In modern society, money facilitates speech. It costs money to publish a newspaper or operate a broadcast station. It is not possible to run a political campaign or effectively criticize officeholders without spending money for signs, advertisements, rallies, mailers, and more.

Williams is not ignorant of the need for money in campaigns. In fact, his proposals recognize that money facilitates speech. But instead of relying on voluntary contributions, Williams wants to prohibit all private contributions and impose a "campaign tax." Rather than allowing you to give your money voluntarily to candidates you support, Williams would have the government take your money and give it to candidates of their choosing, candidates you may detest and who may hold positions that you find personally or morally offensive.

More than simply being unfair to taxpayers, such a scheme is fundamentally foreign to the system of government that the Founders envisioned. As P.J. O'Rourke says: "You want to get elected to change the government and the only place you can go to get the money necessary to run for election is the government you want to change. Do you see something a little East German about that?"

Bradley Smith

Bradley Smith is Chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics and is one of the nation’s foremost experts on campaign finance law.

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