Old Clunker

Ciara Torres-Spelliscy of the Brennan Center for Justice writes in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer about the popular, if inaccurate, shorthand for the Buckley v. Valeo decision, "money is speech" and how it has penetrated discussion about campaign finance at all levels, distorting debate and hurting efforts to reverse some of Buckley's more damaging consequences.

The Supreme Court's supreme conservatism on the question of campaign finance regulation hasn't been helped by their return to the money = speech = gas in car's engine metaphor that doesn't do justice to the complexity of the campaign finance problem that puts running for office out of the financial reach of most Americans:


An election campaign is not a drive in the country, a race between two or more contestants. If money is gasoline, how can you have a fair race when only one car has enough fuel? And when that fuel must be obtained from interested suppliers, who is it that really decides where the car ultimately goes?

Realizing that a campaign is a dynamic competition of many self-interested players might lead us to different approaches.

[ . . ]

It's clear that the cost of campaigning for national office is still astronomically high, as evidenced by the price tag for the presidential primaries this year. Yet we can and should be grateful that, today, speech is not nearly as dependent on money as it once was because of technologies that allow expanded reach with little additional marginal cost. A reflexive money-as-speech metaphor misses out on some of this new reality. Vast sums of money are not the only, or perhaps even the preferable, way to get out a political message. Our political campaigns are now driving hybrids.

The final reason we should leave the money-is-speech slogan behind is that it empowers the rich at the expense of everyone else in our democracy. When millionaires may become a protected class in our jurisprudence, that should be a clear signal that we collectively misstepped.

Torres-Spelliscy concludes with a call for public financing of elections as the way through the speech logjam and the answer to the exclusionary nature of the modern, exorbitantly expensive, campaign.