"Mr. Richard Lewis, a constituent from Kentucky's Third District, has grave concerns about foreign ownership of media.
He raises the issue that while the media has brought campaign finance reform to the forefront of public awareness, such proposals limit the ability of law-abiding citizens to get out a message. Meanwhile, two of the seven largest newspaper companies in the United States are owned by foreign investors. The ability of these foreign owners to influence elections through editorial pages will be strengthened by increased limits on campaign finance." Excerpt from Congresswoman Northup's September 4, 1997 letter to the Chairman William Thomas (Committee on House Oversight), on behalf of her constituent, Richard Lewis
October 18, 1996
Dear Mr. Lewis:
Thankyou for contacting me to convey your support for campaign finance reform. I appreciate you taking the time to share your views with me on this important issue.
The First Amendment of the Constitution, enacted over two hundred years ago, is America's premier political reform:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free
exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people
peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
That is a powerful statement and should be the touchstone of all
campaign finance reform
efforts. The First Amendment ensures that, among other things, citizens can participate in
politics through publicly disclosed contributions to the campaigns of their choice. It also
allows citizens to spend their own money, independent of any candidate, to influence election
outcomes via letters-to-the-editor, pamphlets and even expensive television advertisements.
And the First Amendment gives billionaires the freedom to spend as much of their money as
they want to in support of their own candidacy -- whether you or I happen to like it or not.
This is simply not my opinion, it has long been the position of the Supreme Court. Politcal
speech enjoys more constitutional prtoection than commercial speech.
The First Amendment covers all campaign spending because, as the
Supreme Court has ruled;
in political campaigns spending limits are speech limits. It would be unconstitutional for the
government to dictate how much a candidate can spend to communicate or in what manner.
Television advertisements, for all their shortcomings, are the most efficient means of
communicating with large electorates. While we may long for the past when most voters
could be reached through town hall meetings that just is not the case today. Reliance on
"free" time in lieu of paid advertising is problematic because the government would be
rationing speech and barring candidates from speaking as much as they chose. Nor am I
inclined to rely solely on the news media to inform voters because that would add to its
already immense power. Keep in mind that many news outlets are parts of business empires
so any concern over the influence of "special interests" should extend to the media.
Communication with voters is expensive and any
campaign spending limits (such as those contained in the recently defeated S. 1219, the Senate
Campaign Finance Reform Act of 1995) will effectively limit political discourse. For that
reason, S. 1219 is undemocratic. Because S. 1219 is coercive, penalizing citizens who choose
to exercise First Amendment freedoms, it is also unconstitutional. That is why the American
Civil Liberties Union and an array of groups, representing every ideological stripe and
millions of Americans, opposed it. Were a spending limits bill like S. 1219 ever enacted, the
Supreme Court would strike it down as it did a similar effort twenty years ago, in the Buckley
v. Valeo case.
Though no doubt well intentioned, bills like S. 1219 are
needlessly complex, bureaucratic
approaches to "reform" which seek to do that which the First Amendment dictates they
cannot: grant the government power to parcel out the freedom of speech, as Congress sees
fit. And S. 1219, even if it were deemed constitutional, would not accomplish the stated
goals of its sponsors. S. 1219's red tape alone could strangle the campaigns of political
newcomers who do not have a stable of lawyers at the ready to wade through it. Its spending
limits would surely advantage the political haves -- the well-known, the well-off and the well-
connected -- over have-nots like challengers.
The status quo certainly is not ideal, but it is preferable to
proposals like S. 1219.
Unfortunately, reasoned reforms like improved disclosure and "seed money" for political
underdogs are lost in the clamor for flawed legislation.
Though you did not call specifically on S. 1219, it was the bill
which the Senate debated, and
defeated, this year and it exemplifies the First Amendment problems with many "reform"
Again, thankyou for apprising me of your views on campaign finance
reform. I look
forward to hearing from you in the future.