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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stevens Testifies on Campaign Finance Reform

In his testimony before a U.S. Senate Committee in 2014, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens addressed the need for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution giving Congress and the States the power to restrict political campaign contributions. After listing leveling the playing field such that rival candidates have equal opportunity to persuade, freeing up elected officials from having to spend so much time raising campaign funds, and distinguishing constituents from non-voters (including unions, corporations, and people of other electoral jurisdictions in the U.S.), he stated his position in particularly clear terms. “Money is not speech,” he declared. “Speech is only one of the activities that are financed by campaign contributions and expenditures. Those financial activities should not receive precisely the same constitutional protection as speech itself.”  In short, even money given directly to a political campaign does not reduce to political speech. Although Citizens United (2010) and McCutcheon (2014) were being much cited at the time as baleful cases sure to transform the American democracy into a plutocracy, or rule by wealth-interests, Stevens went back to a 1976 case as the reason why a constitutional amendment rather a mere statute would be needed to place limitations on monetary contributions to political campaigns. In denying Congress the power to impose limits on campaign contributions, the Court in Buckley v. Valeo issued the infamous equivalence between money and speech. To Stevens, money is speech is the fundamental error promulgated by the Court in Buckley that has led successive majority opinions to eviscerate campaign finance limitations enacted by Congress. I submit that the ex-jurist could have drawn on the Buckley decision for support, thus undermining the resulting legal doctrine as a legal precedent for the Court. 

The entire essay is at "John Paul Stevens: Money Is Not Speech"