Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has said, "You can't separate speech from the money that facilitates the speech. It's utterly impossible."
To the contrary: we can if we like separate the two. It's a political issue, not an exercise in scholastic epistemology. Politics involves measure and choice. It involves choosing where we ought to draw lines. Drawing lines is an appropriate deterrence to useless absolutes. Politics involves ethics – not unlike another line we draw regarding freedom of speech. That is the ethics of not shouting fire in a crowded theatre.
Money is power. Or, more accurately, money gives one some power. A tiny amount gives one very little power. And money gives the super rich more political power than the rest of us – while we consider equality in political power ethical and therefore deny people the freedom of voting twice.
It's true that money allows news organizations more power to disseminate their views than the average citizen. With their money, people are free to create newspapers, websites, magazines or print fliers with which they express their views. This we put on one side of the free speech issue, with all of the rest of free speech that we value for our society.
The Constitution prohibits the making of "any law" that abridges "the freedom of speech." But It's a stretch to consider campaign contributions – money – as one and the same with free speech. Justice Scalia does so as a great abstract equation. We should be wary of simple equations purporting profundity: god equals nature; money equals free speech, et cetera. Such equations require a lot of explaining, to say the least.
Nowhere in the U.S. Constitution does it say money equals free speech. To express it as Scalia does as an absolutistic mathematics equation
is to deny the nation the freedom of a very important expression: the freedom to draw a line in political ethics.
Copyright © 2012 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.