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Rich Lowry: The First Amendment is such a nuisance

Posted: April 6, 2014 - 3:52pm  |  Updated: April 6, 2014 - 9:04pm

Every time the Supreme Court rules in favor of the First Amendment in a campaign-finance case, the left recoils in disgust.

The court’s 5-4 decision in McCutcheon v. FEC is the latest occasion for the rending of garments and gnashing of teeth. The court struck down the limit on the aggregate amount a donor can give to candidates and political-party committees, ruling it incompatible with First Amendment protections for political expression.

The left pronounced itself outraged. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who has $11 million in his campaign treasury despite being a senator for life, called the decision “another step on the road to ruination.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who has enough of a fundraising surplus that he bought jewelry for his donors from his granddaughter, resorted to a thunderous non sequitur in denouncing the decision: “All it does is take away people’s rights because, as you know, the Koch brothers are trying to buy America.”

The First Amendment is for strippers, flag burners, pornographers, funeral protesters and neo-Nazis, but not for people trying to give money to political parties or candidates.

In his decision for the court, Chief Justice John Roberts noted that contributing to a candidate is political participation just like volunteering for a campaign or urging others to vote. “Money in politics may at times seem repugnant to some,” Roberts writes, “but so too does much of what the First Amendment vigorously protects.”

The decision in McCutcheon should have been a slam-dunk. Campaign-finance law limits how much a single donor can give in an election cycle to $5,200 for a federal candidate and $64,800 for a party committee.

The court let these so-called base limits stand on grounds that under the landmark Buckley v. Valeo decision, direct contributions to candidates hold the greatest possibility for creating corruption.

But if you accept the base limits, the aggregate limits on the total anyone can give to candidates in a single cycle ($48,600) and to party committees and PACs in a single cycle ($74,600) make no sense. By the logic of the law, if a contribution to one candidate of $5,200 or less is not corrupting, there should be no fear that a donor giving a couple of dozen candidates that amount will be corrupting. Each of the candidates is receiving the proscribed amount or less.

Once a donor hits the aggregate limit, though, it functions as an outright ban on further donations to candidates or parties — even though these donations aren’t corrupting. This is an impingement of his political rights without any upside of preventing graft.

The critics of the decision object to it partly on egalitarian grounds: Very few donors have the resources to contribute enough to bump up against the aggregate limits, so the decision gives disproportionate influence to a few people.

A free political system always has such disparities. Should Thomas Paine have been silenced, since his incredible rhetorical powers made him more influential than other pamphleteers? Should The New York Times be shuttered, since it exercises more power than almost anyone else in New York?

At the root of the left’s opposition to McCutcheon, and Citizens United before it, is that it reduces governmental control over the political process. That control is taken, ipso facto, to be a good thing.

If the First Amendment gets in the way, so much the worse for the First Amendment. Remember: The position of the Obama administration in oral arguments over Citizens United was that the government could ban books printed by corporations. Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, has proposed amending the First Amendment to give the government more latitude to limit political expression.

In his decision, Roberts writes “that the First Amendment ‘is designed and intended to remove governmental restraints from the arena of public discussion, putting the decision as to what views should be voiced largely into the hands of each of us.’” For those lamenting the decision, that is precisely the problem.

Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail:

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leewaytooo 04/09/14 - 03:01 am
by lowry's logic then

by lowry's logic then monopolies would be just fine...

it is just money, buying more influence over the market.

Norseman 04/09/14 - 06:20 am
Just think, now our

Just think, now our politicians no longer have to sneek into hotel rooms to receive their envelopes of cash.

Now we should pass a law that they be required to wear nascar type jumpsuits with all of their corporate donor logos plastered on them.

Finally, picture this. Say that I and one of the Koch brothers places a call to Don Youngs office. I am an Alaskan voter, but never donated to Mr Youngs campaigns nor voted for him.
Koch, isn't an Alaskan voter but has spent millions to Republican campaigns.
Who's call do you think Mr Young will answer?

Now do you see the problem?

Raoulduke 04/09/14 - 08:59 am
MONEY over Morality

Corporation's are now people.The majority Republican Supreme Court Justices voted so.Now! There is No limit on contributions,or disclosure needed.Which tells me.Our Supreme Court is corrupt.We have the best Representatives money has bought.Corporations rule the roost,and has manipulated the politics of this country through their purchasing of such representatives.Which these Representatives have circumvented the Constitution,and use as toilet paper.I am hopeful.That anyone with any moral fiber can see the corrupt selling out of this country.A country I fought for. I am almost ashamed to say "I am an American" when asked.Something I was proud to admit. No wonder the world does not care for us.This country has displayed a gross form of HYPOCRISY. SHAME on us.

Raoulduke 04/09/14 - 09:05 am
The 1st

Mr. Lowry You stated the 1st Amendment is a nuisance.Try living in our Allied nation of Saudi Arabia.Then tell me. How much of a nuisance our 1st amendment is.

Suss 04/09/14 - 12:48 pm
Corporations Prison

Corporations are people but they never seem to go to prison. People can only file bankruptcy once in 10 years, corporations can file as many times as they need to. The game is stacked, always has been, now it is rigged so the house corporation can't lose for losing. A loss is a win and a win is a loss come tax time. When big money writes the rules the little guy pays for it.

iceice 04/15/14 - 10:55 am

Does the clarion keep posting this guys BS?

Raoulduke 04/15/14 - 08:39 pm
Why again?

Well! Mr. Lowry is practicing that nuisance of a 1st Amendment Which is his right .No matter even if it is BS.

RaySouthwell 04/18/14 - 08:31 am
Relax, look at the befits

Relax folks. Just look at the great benefits the corporate controlled government give us. Thank goodness the corporations like using the dollars created by the monopolies of the banking corporations. As Bob Marley would say. Don't worry be happy.

leewaytooo 04/18/14 - 11:11 am
Bobby McFerrin "don't worry

Bobby McFerrin "don't worry be happy"...........for

those that prefer the truth.......

first amendment is great.......just needs to be the truth.

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