What is free speech today?

Most of the criticism of any kind of campaign finance reform is that is somehow clamps down on free speech. In our current federal system of pay-to-play elections, incumbents can outraise challengers and easily outspend them in gerrymandered districts, and money speaks louder than people. Speech is not free as much as its bought.

 

That's why moments like yesterday's gathering in Charlotte, NC, where a citizen named Harry Taylor got up and challenged the president is so important but increasingly so rare. The fundraising pressures on our elected officials mean that they spend far too much time hearing from those with whom they are making a transaction -- you give me money, I support your agenda -- than they do hearing from people like Harry Taylor. Agree with his points or not, you have to admit that this type of exchange is an endangered species in American politics.

 

It reminded me of two things:

 

First, candidates participating in the ground-breaking Clean Elections public financing systems in Maine, Arizona, North Carolina, and elsewhere speak of the palpable difference in how they campaign -- they spend time with voters, not donors. That's a dramatic difference. We need it for Congress.

 

Second, I cannot look at Harry Taylor yesterday without being reminded of Norman Rockwell's Freedom of Speech painting from his Four Freedoms series. Take a look at the attachments below.

 

Harry Taylor