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Vail Daily column: Money speaks freely, too

Richard Carnes

It’s weird to write about the U.S. Supreme Court two weeks in a row concerning two completely separate issues.

Weird, but strangely valid.

Last week those nine crazy guys and gals struck down a federal law from the Watergate era limiting the money donors can give to federal candidates, political parties and political groups.

While maintaining the dollar limit to individual candidates ($2,600) and party committees ($5,000), they now allow donors to give those amounts to as many candidates as they wish. (Ten was the old limit.)

Oh happy day! Mo’ money means mo’ favors and mo’ politikin’ by rich folk who can tell the rest of us how to live our lives!

Wow.

Chief Justice John Roberts (Who, by the way, was the deciding justice in approving Obamacare. Go figure.) concluded that an individual’s First Amendment right of free expression was being unconstitutionally restricted if there was a limit on how many candidates they could support financially.

What bothers me here though, is that he is correct.

The downside however is obvious — this simply allows the wealthy to pour even more green gold into political campaigns, effectively overwhelming the voices (i.e. free speech) of those with no green to spare.

What bothers me here even more is, of course, that I am correct as well.

‘GIANT MEGAPHONE FOR THE WEALTHY’

As one dissenter said, “No matter what five Supreme Court justices say, the First Amendment was never intended to provide a giant megaphone for the wealthiest to use to shout down the rest of us.”

Yet this entire issue has been dealt with previously, way back before I even graduated high school. Buckley v. Valeo (decided in 1976) said political campaign spending is a form of “free speech,” so it cannot be limited by law. This privileges the wealthy few over the remaining 99 percent in the political process.

So now the entire issue is just a muddled mess in my befuddled brain.

Justice Roberts said the First Amendment “reflects a judgment by the American people that the benefits of its restrictions on the government outweigh the costs.”

Meaning, I suppose, we’re all for free speech except for those times when we are not.

“Those who govern should be the last people to help decide who should govern,” he continued with yet another statement that I found myself reluctantly in agreement.

All the free speech in the world combined will not buy me a new car, but money certainly will. Yet while that money will certainly buy me a new car, speaking freely will not force anyone to ride in it with me, so yeah, I guess the two are intertwined in a bizarre sort of way.

And to be perfectly honest, like the asinine Citizens United decision a few years ago, this wasn’t so much the introduction of anything new as it was to simply make legal what has previously been done behind closed doors for decades, sort of like smoking pot in Colorado.

Damn, that pesky First Amendment is as dangerous as it is beautiful.

Richard Carnes, of Edwards, writes a weekly column. He can be reached at poor@vail.net.

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