Free Speech on Senate Chopping Block
By Richard Larsen
Freedom of Speech is something we often take for granted. We can express our approval or disapprobation of events, inanimate objects, people, and even politicians. We often feel that there are unwritten political-correctness forces at work attempting to stifle expression regarding certain subjects, but as stated in the First Amendment to the Constitution, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech…” That is, until now. Forty-three Democrat senators are backing a bill to do just that.
In politics, communication and freedom of expression are not only protected activities under the First Amendment, but they are requisite in order to educate, campaign, and influence voters. The primary means of such communication are through the media and through advertising. And advertising is only possible with money, and lots of it. So when controls are placed on the raising and spending of campaign funds, such controls restrict and constrain political free speech. And that’s precisely what is being attempted.
This week the Senate Judiciary Committee conducted the first round of hearings on the Senate Joint Resolution 19. The bill is sponsored by Senator Tom Udall, (D-NM), and cosponsored by 42 other Democrat senators including Tom Harkin (D-IL), Chuck Shumer (D-NY), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Harry Reid (D-NV).
The bill summary, as found on the congressional website, says it is, “A joint resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States relating to contributions and expenditures intended to affect elections.” Per the bill, “Congress shall have power to regulate the raising and spending of money and in-kind equivalents with respect to Federal elections, including setting limits on (1) the amount of contributions to candidates for nomination for election to, or for election to, Federal office; and (2) the amount of funds that may be spent by, in support of, or in opposition to such candidates.” Then in appropriate plenipotentiary arrogance, they grant to states the same authority at the state level. And all of this is done under the guise of advancing “the fundamental principle of political equality for all, and to protect the integrity of the legislative and electoral processes.”
But then, so as to not reap the displeasure of their friends in the mainstream media, they have the temerity to declare, “Nothing in this article shall be construed to grant Congress the power to abridge the freedom of the press.” This is not surprising since, according to a new study of the media, released last month, and conducted by two Indiana University journalism professors, four times as many journalists self-identify with the Democrats than those who identify themselves as Republicans. It’s obvious that the senators pushing for this new amendment don’t mind losing a little of George Soros’ money, as long as they still have the mainstream media in their pocket. They apparently feel this is the only way to curtail the influence of people like the Koch brothers, whom Harry Reid has made a nearly daily sport of verbal dribbling on the floor of the senate.
In other words, Congress is appropriating to itself (contrary to the Bill of Rights which they’re attempting to amend) the authority to limit political expression, or speech, while conveniently and strategically carving out a pragmatic exemption for the primarily liberal mainstream media.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), says of the resolution, “So The New York Times is protected, but it doesn’t say the same thing about the freedom of speech. It doesn’t say the same thing about religious liberty; what it says it that politicians in Washington have unlimited constitutional authority to muzzle each and every one of you if you’re saying things the government finds inconvenient.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) pointed out the impact of this legislation by saying it “…would enable government to limit funds contributed to candidates and funds spent by or in support of candidates. That would give the government the ability to limit speech. The amendment would allow the government to set the limit at zero. There could be no contributions. There could be no election spending. There could be no public debate on who should be elected. Incumbents would find that outcome to be acceptable. They would know that no challenger could run an effective campaign against them. Rationing of speech at low limits would produce similar results.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), told the committee, “Benjamin Franklin noted that ‘whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.’ The First Amendment is the constitutional guarantee of that freedom, and it has never been amended.” He continued, “I understand that no politician likes to be criticized — and some of us are criticized more often than others. But the recourse to being criticized is not to shut up our fellow citizens. It’s to defend your ideas more ably in the political marketplace, to paraphrase Justice Holmes. Or it’s simply to come up with better ideas.”
This is not just a bill, it’s a proposed Constitutional Amendment that would give Congress unlimited control of one important aspect of our freedom of speech. If Senate Democrats have the pompous audacity to presume that they can ration or limit political speech, it’s only logical to conclude that they’ll likewise assume they have the right to ration, limit, and regulate other forms of speech at some point. If they think they can deny even a scintilla of political speech, effectively muzzling their critics, they clearly are predisposed to denying or controlling all speech.
Passage of the bill, and ratification as an Amendment is unlikely. But the trend toward government control of everything in our lives, and the suppression of our constitutionally assured rights is unmistakable. And one salient fact that should not be lost on the electorate is which Party is leading and facilitating that trend.
Associated Press award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, Idaho and is a graduate of Idaho State University with degrees in Political Science and History and coursework completed toward a Master’s in Public Administration. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.