Tuesday, May 02, 2006

ACLU Opposition Kills Rhode Island Campaign Finance Law

As Chelsea Phua reports for the AP, last Wednesday a federal court struck down a Rhode Island law which checked the influence of corporations and wealthy individuals on the state's ballot initiative process. The court's decision came in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against the law, alleging that it infringed on the First Amendment's right to free speech.

The parts of the law which were struck down included 1) a ban on corporate contributions to groups advocating for/against ballot initiatives and 2) a $10,000 limit on contributions from individuals or groups to organizations advocating for/against initiatives. Just as a reminder, corporation aren't citizens and can't vote, and only a small fraction of Americans can afford to give even $1,000 towards an initiative, much less $10,000.

But the ACLU isn't concerned with the rights of ordinary Americans in this case.

The ACLU has a long history of supporting the rights of the financially powerful to use their wealth to influence elections at the expense of the voice of regular Americans in determining our elected representatives and in determining our laws through the ballot initiative process. This opposition to reform is disguised as a defense of First Amendment rights, but in reality it benefits only those who are able to give hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars.

In other words, the ACLU advocates a multi-tiered system of First Amendment rights - those with money get more say, while the rest of us get run over by the very Constitution which is supposed to protect our rights. If this sounds familiar, it's because it's the exact same argument that financially powerful people on the right use to suppress the electoral voice of regular Americans.

Money isn't speech. Speech is. Nothing in the Rhode Island law precluded anyone from speaking their mind about a ballot measure to friends or coworkers or family members or people on the bus. Nothing in the Rhode Island law checked anyone's right to speak their mind in letters to the editor, in a blog, on a sandwich board, or at the top of their lungs in the town square.

To the extent that money provides a way to communicate ideas and arguments to a wider audience, those means should be available to people regardless of their wealth. The sooner the ACLU and their fellow financial elitists get that, the better.

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