Over the course of the last half-century, The U.S. Supreme Court has issued a series of legal rulings rolling back regulatory constraints on political donations. Beginning with Buckley v. Valeo in 1976 and continuing through McConnell v. FEC and Citizens United, the Court has advanced a view that money is equivalent to speech, and therefore that political spending is protected by the First Amendment.
We believe that the influence of money in politics is pernicious for a variety of reasons. Donations are often used to peddle influence, giving outsized power to the ultrawealthy. In the face of a political system that is skewed towards politicians benefiting from the current regime, the best way to implement campaign finance reform is for voters to take direct action and hold elected officials accountable. For these reasons, we support a yes vote on Massachusetts Ballot Question 2, which would create a “Citizens Commission” to advance an amendment to overturn Citizens United and reform campaign finance laws.
Opponents of campaign finance reform often argue that money is a form of speech. Campaign finance regulations, by this argument, constitute an unconstitutional infringement on freedom of speech. However, the claim that spending one’s money is equivalent to expressing one’s opinion directly contradicts the idea that all citizens have an equal voice. Under our current campaign finance system, the amplitude of a citizen’s voice is dependent on the size of their bank account.
Enforcing stricter limits on donations would not be a regulation unique to campaign finance. Standard antitrust law, for example, prohibits companies from buying up too many of their competitors and amassing excessive market power, which would have negative consequences for consumers and other market participants. If antitrust law can limit how much companies can increase their market power, we are skeptical that limits on spending to accumulate political power are meaningfully different.
The logic for supporting Question 2 extends beyond this refutation of the money-as-speech argument. It hinges on a belief in the fairness of American democracy, and the idea that our government serves us best when it reflects the diversity of our origins, our commitments, and our beliefs. Our democracy cannot be equitable when the instruments of power are controlled by a few wealthy families and operated for their own personal gain. We are heartened to see that this commission would seek to reflect a variety of geographic, political, and demographic backgrounds. Ultimately, we hope that this report will be taken seriously and lead to actual changes in the form of a constitutional amendment.
This staff editorial is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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