House campaign reform bill violates freedom of expression in America\’s political sphere.

WASHINGTON – When the campaign finance reform bill sponsored by representatives Christopher Shays (R-Conn) and Marin Meehan (D-Mass.) goes to the floor of the U.S. House later this week, House members from both parties will face a critical decision: Protect free political speech, or compromise it through a misleading populist measure designed to bring "integrity" to the political process.

"The Shays-Meehan legislation, and its ban of soft money to political parties, threatens the First Amendment\’s assurance that all sides can have a voice in the policymaking process" said taxpayer advocate Grover Norquist, who heads Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) in Washington. "This legislation is only slightly different than the version Dick Gephardt (D-Mo) introduced year after year, which actually required amending the First Amendment."

The Shays-Meehan legislation directly confronts a Supreme Court ruling from seven years ago, which stated, "Political contributions, as well as political expenditures, are core constitutional activities affecting freedom of expression and freedom of association. Secondly, contribution limits, as well as expenditure limits, are therefore subject to \’the closest scrutiny.\’ Third, whenever the government attempts to regulate speech, it \’must demonstrate that the harms are real … and that the regulation will in fact alleviate these harms in a direct and material way." (United States v. National Treasury Employees Union, 513 U.S. 454, 475 1995.)

"Few in the media or in Hollywood complain that the editorial pages and news stories of our newspapers, or today\’s pop culture icons, get to publicize their political views freely across the world," continued Norquist. "Those folks get more \’free\’ speech than you and I, because they have access to a great medium of communication. But citizens and businesses outside of print or broadcast media do not have that option, and undermining a group\’s ability to communicate a political message is tantamount to censorship."

Various civil rights organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), have repeatedly expressed concern that the campaign finance reform proposals floating around Congress tend toward unconstitutionality.

"The answer to the campaign finance dilemma is not more limits and loopholes in political speech. Rather, it lies in technology, which easily facilitates the disclosure of private political contributions, as well as faith in the ability of voters to determine where their best interests lie. By focusing our efforts in this direction, we are far more likely to accomplish meaningful reform and far less likely to run afoul of the First Amendment," concluded Norquist.

This is the third in a series of four policy papers published by ATR on campaign finance reform.