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The Occupy Wall Streeters — Destroying the First Amendment

Showing a woeful ignorance and virtual contempt for basic rights protected by the Bill of Rights.

by
Hans A. von Spakovsky

Bio

October 27, 2011 - 12:22 am

The “Occupy Wall Street” protestors have put their platform online with an apparent list of demands. One of those demands — an immediate ban on all private campaign contributions to political candidates — shows a woeful ignorance and virtual contempt for basic rights protected by the Bill of Rights.

They also call for:

The immediate reversal, even if it requires a Constitutional Amendment, of the outrageous and anti-democratic holding in the “Citizens United” case by the Supreme Court, which equates the payment of money by corporations, wealthy individuals, and unions to politicians with free speech. We, the People, demand that institutional bribery and corruption not be deemed protected speech.

Subject to the above ban on all private money and gifts in politics, to enact additional campaign finance reform requiring free air time and public campaign finances to all candidates who obtain sufficient petition signatures and/or votes to participate in the primaries and/or electoral process, to shorten the campaign season and to allow voting on weekends and holidays.

The OWS protestors don’t seem to understand (or don’t care) that the First Amendment provides that Congress shall make no law “abridging the freedom of speech” or “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  That includes the ability to not only speak out on political issues and the merits of candidates for public office, but to spend money on persuading others about the merits of those candidates or helping them get elected through campaign contributions.

Americans have the right to associate with others who share their beliefs. Freedom of speech is not limited to just individuals, but also to the many other forms in which American associate, from unions to corporations to organizations such as the NAACP, the Sierra Club, or the National Rifle Association.

These demands are more than just pernicious proposals by protestors who want to destroy the economic and personal freedom that has helped make us a great nation. They are unconstitutional attempts to limit the ability of Americans to associate with others or to petition and otherwise lobby the government on many important public policy issues.  The OWS protesters are themselves benefiting from the right to associate and speak that they now seek to deny to others.

The claim that the Citizens United decision allows payment of “money by corporations” and unions to politicians is a myth that liberals and campaign reformers continue to spew.  Corporations and unions are prohibited from making campaign contributions to politicians by federal law, and that law has not been overturned by the Supreme Court (although some would argue that it should be overturned by Congress).

Citizens United held that the First Amendment prohibits Congress from censoring the political speech of any entity, and that includes independent expenditures that fund political speech.  That decision is in the greatest traditions of liberty and free speech, the most fundamental principles upon which this country was founded.

A public funding program for all federal candidates for Congress and the presidency also would violate basic First Amendment associational protections. The high costs of modern congressional and presidential campaigns that are national in scope are such that they could be funded only through taxation.  Voluntary contributions by Americans would never generate enough money for such a program, as demonstrated by the long-term decline in support for the current presidential public funding program — only eight percent of taxpayers check-off the line on their tax returns that contributes three dollars to the fund. It would violate the associational rights of individual Americans if the government were to force them through taxation to fund political candidates with whom those Americans disagree or do not support.  The federal government does not have the power to force American citizens to fund the campaigns of political candidates any more than the government has the power to force them to vote for particular candidates.

The government also has no right to force television stations and other media outlets to provide free airtime for candidates. This is a clear taking of private property without compensation from owners, shareholders, and employees of those media entities.

The framers of the Constitution were right to protect political and other forms of speech from government censorship, since they understood from history that freedom of speech, as well as the right to associate and the ability to petition the government, are key anchors of liberty.  For some reason, the OWS protestors despise these First Amendment rights, wanting to deny them to those with whom they disagree politically.  You have to wonder what other constitutional rights they would try to eliminate as soon as they get rid of the First Amendment.

Hans A. von Spakovsky is a Senior Legal Fellow at The Heritage Foundation and a former counsel to the assistant attorney general for civil rights at the Justice Department. He is the coauthor of the book “Who’s Counting? How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk”.
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