Opinion

When “Free Speech” By Special Interests Tramples On The Rights Of Citizens

The Constitution protects the rights of every American, including free speech, with the understanding that some limits can be placed on your conduct if it infringes on the rights of another American.

Your right to free speech cannot include yelling “fire” in a crowded theater to start a deadly stampede.  “Freedom of expression” does not mean you have a right to give a KKK speech while burning a KKK cross on the property of a black family.

The First Amendment does not give you the right to follow a campaign volunteer into private homes, and use a powerful blow horn to shout over them when they try to speak in support of their political candidate.

And yet, that’s what is happening.  Special interests with lots of money have been using their “free speech” to shout over — and drown out — the speech of other Americans.  They have been using the 1976 Buckley v Valeo decision to virtually eliminate your free speech, arguing that the Constitution guarantees the unlimited use of money as “speech” even when it overrides the free speech of individual citizens.

If 57 billionaires and the biggest corporations, unions and special interests choose the only candidates the rest of us are allowed to consider for high office — just as the British Empire told Americans who our King and State Governors were prior to the Revolution — then the “free speech” of those special interests is quashing the true free speech of hundreds of millions of Americans.

We need to rescue the First Amendment rights of Americans from a growing Oligarchy.  The nation’s Founders based our Republic on the balance of interests to be argued for through competing free speech.  Allowing unlimited and secret or veiled campaign contributions to be used as a giant blow horn actually destroys the free speech of individuals that our Constitution should protect. Likewise, intimidation and ostracization of anyone who disagrees with a powerful group shuts down free speech.

Even if we accept the idea that money is somehow “speech,” free speech is not unlimited.  You can’t shout “fire” in a crowded theater.  Therefore money sent to or spent by shady third-party groups for political attack ads can certainly be limited, because they infringe on the free speech rights of individual American citizens.

As a conservative who wants to drain the swamp of secret political money being traded for our tax dollars, I’ve wrestled with the best approach for fixing this crisis.

At Take Back Our Republic, we encourage the discussion of conservative approaches to campaign finance reform that fall within current Constitutional decisions; but powerful lobbyists trading secret contributions for our tax dollars can only be dislodged via: 1) a Supreme Court decision, 2) an Article V Convention, or 3) a 28th Amendment to the Constitution.

I’d love to see the Supreme Court or an Article V Convention address these issues, but I do worry that either could bring along many unintended consequences (e.g. groups with a broad liberal agenda tried to stop Judge Neil Gorsuch for other reasons, and I’ve seen some of my 21 political conventions go in unintended directions).

After much soul-searching over the past year, that leads me to believe a 28th Amendment is the cleanest way to address a specific clarification to one of the greatest documents ever created by man – the US Constitution.

To date, 18 of our United States have asked Congress for a Constitutional amendment that would allow limits on political spending where appropriate and let us take our government back from those who give big transaction money – in other words, trading millions in contributions for billions of your taxpayer dollars.

Hundreds of local governments, all across the country, have voted to do the same.  Large and small, conservative and liberal – the governments closest to the people have endorsed changing the federal Constitution to balance the funding of elections.  Homer, Alaska; Tucson, Arizona; Atlanta, Georgia; Dubuque, Iowa; Missoula, Montana; Derry, New Hampshire; Austin, Texas… the list goes on and on and on. At last count, more than 700 different municipalities have voted in favor of amending the Constitution.

Our campaign last year focused in South Dakota, where a majority of voters approved the Accountability and Anti-Corruption Act after it was added to the ballot by initiative petition.  The Act would have balanced the system by encouraging small donations by average voters, and also requiring those groups giving politicians unlimited secret gifts to disclose their gifts, so voters would at least know who was trying to trade political gifts for millions in state taxpayer funded contracts. No one was shocked when, almost immediately after voters approved the Act, Legislators called an emergency session to throw out the will of the people and keep their secret and unlimited gifts coming.

When I ran a nationwide faith-based vote turnout for Bush 2000, reaching out to 14 million conservative Christians and Catholics, anyone who was motivated by ideology and willing to make phone calls, knock on doors or pass out literature at events knew they were exercising their free speech to actually elect a President. Certainly grassroots progressives were turning out voters in similar ways, but we all felt part of a vibrant Democracy and most Americans liked at least one if not both candidates.

Since then, I have watched grassroots activists replaced by gambling and entertainment money that shares none of their values, and anonymous attack ads drown out the average citizen.

We need a solution that restores the balance of speech needed for our Republic to exist.  We need reasonable limits and disclosure to prevent the political-industrial complex from reinventing the Oligarchy or Monarchy of old.  I am all for a Supreme Court case or Article V convention, if either of those avenues could restore the free speech rights of American citizens, but the appeal for the 28th Amendment seems the most direct path to victory.

Take Back Our Republic is leading the conservative movement for campaign finance reform.  We are a growing, grassroots group made up of people from all around the nation, from a wide variety of backgrounds and economic circumstances.  We are united by the belief that our political system has been corrupted by special interest spending – and restoring citizens’ rights to be heard by their elected officials is the first step toward returning our government to the people.

John Pudner is a former conservative political consultant, best known for helping Dave Brat unseat US House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in 2014 using grassroots action rather than campaign money. He is also the former editor of Breitbart Sports. Take Back Our Republic now has chapters in 37 states.