In recent days, The Post has overflowed with commentary about the Supreme Court’s McCutcheon et al. v. Federal Election Commission decision striking down caps on how much people can give in total to federal candidates and party committees. For decades, many on the left have pushed to expand the definition of First Amendment speech, argu ing for protection of activities as diverse as burning draft cards and nude dancing . Recently, however, as the court has acted to enforce a broad meaning of protected speech with regard to political campaigns, the left has recoiled. The McCutcheon decision is cast as part of the progressive nightmare du jour: income inequality. Suddenly a malleable definition of protected speech has lost some of its appeal.
We need to solve the problem of money distorting electoral politics, but endless litigation and politically driven appointments to the court are not the answer. We need to consider constitutional amendments that will return regulation of political campaigning to Congress, where it belongs.
Robert Tenney, Gaithersburg
In his April 7 op-ed column, “In politics, money is speech,” Robert J. Samuelson argued that the Supreme Court should overturn the landmark 1976 campaign finance case Buckley v. Valeo. Mr. Samuelson is right that Buckley needs to go, but not all of it and not for the reasons he thinks.
Mr. Samuelson argued that Buckley’s upholding of contribution limits ignores free speech concerns. In reality, the danger that Buckley poses to the First Amendment can be found not in what the case upheld but in what the case struck down: limits on how much wealthy people can independently spend in elections or directly on their own campaigns.
Allowing the super-rich to spend so much overpowers the voices of everyday Americans, a problem the Supreme Court made worse with its McCutcheon v. FEC decision, and is a perversion of the First Amendment. As Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in his McCutcheon dissent, “The First Amendment advances not only the individual’s right to engage in political speech but also the public’s interest in preserving a democratic order in which collective speech matters.”
Mr. Samuelson charged that “campaign finance ‘reform’ aims to fix a problem that doesn’t really exist.” But with more money than ever distorting our elections — and popular, common-sense legislation stalling short of passage — to suggest there isn’t a problem is to be willfully blind.
Marge Baker, Potomac
The writer is executive vice president of People for the American Way.
Robert J. Samuelson expressed the hope that the Supreme Court would soon “overrule its 1976 decision in Buckley v. Valeo, the landmark case upholding campaign finance ‘reform’ legislation.” I have always thought that the right to free speech was a personal right, not a right for me to pay others to express my thoughts and opinions. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court does not agree and is leading our country in a direction that may result in it becoming a plutocracy.
Dennis Beaufort, Washington
Regarding E.J. Dionne Jr.’s April 7 op-ed column, “Supreme oligarchy”:
Will someone please apply a cold compress to Mr. Dionne’s forehead (or have him read Robert J. Samuelson’s column)? Under the McCutcheon decision, all people will be able to give more money to political campaigns, and plenty of money will continue to flow to Democratic as well as Republican candidates. Moreover, self-interested voters will continue to have access to massive amounts of information on every candidate and all sides of every issue. Mr. Dionne fears the rich and their money too much and respects the American voter and American political system too little.
Willis Bush, Dumfries
In arguing that “money is speech” in politics, Robert J. Samuelson contended that “limiting my ability to contribute to candidates and parties restricts my First Amendment rights.”
Unlike the privileged whose free speech Mr. Samuelson championed, millions upon millions of Americans don’t have the resources to contribute; if money equals speech, they are the ones whose ability to exercise their First Amendment rights is limited.
Undoubtedly, Mr. Samuelson doesn’t want to bring back the days when voting in many parts of the country was restricted to property owners. So why does he support a system in which another right is limited only to those with the money to make large political contributions?
In “Animal Farm,” George Orwell warned us of a society in which “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” The Supreme Court’s decisions on campaign finance reform bring us dangerously close to that Orwellian dystopia.
Leonard Steinhorn, Washington
The campaign finance debate on the April 7 op-ed page between E.J. Dionne Jr. and Robert J. Samuelson was a splendid demonstration of the value of free speech. The writers succinctly laid out their opposing points of view on a most important First Amendment controversy. Teachers looking for contrasting expositions of the evolution of the Supreme Court’s thinking on campaign funding could not do better than present their students with this thoughtful pair of columns. And the debate itself constituted an outstanding illustration of the benefits of free speech to a democratic society. I agreed with one viewpoint and disagreed with the other, but as a citizen I gained from reading both together.
Charles S. Mack, Rockville