The price of free speech


By a 6 to 3 vote SCOTUS has just struck down a Vermont law that limited political campaign contributions to $200.

In an earlier case they had decided that it was fair to restrict campaign contributions to $1,500 or less.

It will be interesting to see what this decision means in Senator “Shut-up I’m an Incumbent” McCain’s home state of Arizona.

Meanwhile, The Boston Globe reports reaction from the Vermont anti-First Amendment crowd:

Public interest groups called the decision a blow to their goal of reducing the importance of campaign-fund-raising. Pat Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, a leader in the push to make Vermont’s election law a reality, called the decision “incredibly disappointing.”

“Instead of allowing us to level the playing field, the justices have pushed average folks to the sidelines and preserved a clear path to power for wealthy donors,” Burns said in a statement. “This ruling undermines Vermont citizens and all Americans who are working to protect the integrity of their democracy and participate equally in the political process.”

Couldn’t “average folks” be those who might want to contribute the $201 they raised in the George Soros Block-Party bake sale?

It is possible to trace 7.57% of the total contributions to the Vermont Public Interest Research & Education Fund; the charitable arm for Vermont Public Interest Research Group, to Mr. Burns’ pocket as its Executive Director. In 2004, this was only about $34,000, but VPIRG is a local affiliate of a national organization.

More research into the cash flows and political contributions of his organization would be useful. I’ll pursue it as I get the time. Meanwhile any info would be appreciated.

What have we learned? First, the Supreme Court acknowledges that money equals speech in the case of political campaign contributions. Second, SCOTUS believes political speech is capped at $1,499.99, but that it is unconstitutional to restrict it below $200.01.

I think this decision is a good sign. The Supremes have acknowledged that money and speech are congruent, First Amendment-wise, and we’ll be able to depend on inflation to raise the amount even if they don’t ever recognize the contradictory aspects of their decisions.

BTW it was Justices Souter, Stevens and Ginsburg who voted to cap freedom of speech at $200.

1 thought on “The price of free speech”

  1. I’m guessing that VPIRG taps into one of the funding sources that the NY branch of Ralph Nader’s creation uses to fund their activism.Every student registering in either the state (SUNY) or city (CUNY) university systems has $3.00 of their registration fee funneled to NYPIRG’s coffers, whether they agree with NYPIRG’s agenda or not. If you request a refund of the three bucks they’ll hand it over, but it’s not widely known about the “donation” NYPIRG receives through these registration fees. It totals up to roughly a million bucks in automatic donations just from CUNY students every year.

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