On August 22, 1979, Philadelphia Congressman Ozzie Myers took an envelope with $50,000 from an undercover FBI agent. He was filmed stuffing the envelope into the inside of his suit coat pocket, and while doing so he was heard to say, “Money talks and bull----walks.” It’s highly unlikely that Myers was the originator of that expression, but he certainly popularized it.
Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in a 5-4 opinion that any American has a First Amendment free speech right to give as much cash to as many candidates (within the limitations of each individual candidate) as he chooses, perhaps Myers’ words take on an expanded meaning. Somehow this conservative decision smacks of the very judicial activism that Republicans love to lay on liberal judges. The congress passed a law after much debate and deliberation that set limits on how much any one individual can contribute in an election cycle. They did this because of the obvious corrupting influence of money, and that a handful of very wealthy individuals could potentially swing the outcome of an election and which party would be in the majority. Yet the five conservative justices overrode that of the will of the people.
The justices equate spending money with free speech, but if you read the First Amendment there isn’t a single mention of money. Since strict constructionists like to argue that we need to “go back to the Constitution”, how had this “unconstitutional” law undermined anyone’s right to speak? Laws should not be overturned unless they clearly violate the Constitution. Otherwise the high court becomes an unelected super-legislature. The Constitution has to be interpreted because most of it doesn’t, and can’t possibly, define every situation. For example, there is nothing in the First Amendment that says a person can’t yell “fire” in a crowded movie theater. But we all agree that the courts have it right that this is not protected speech. The question then is what is protected?
The Court ruled that the current limits of how much an individual can contribute to each candidate remains in force. But why? If money is the same as speech, why should there be any caps under any circumstance? What is the reasoning behind upholding this part of the law but overturning the other? Draw your own conclusion as I have drawn mine, but it should be pretty clear.
Chief Justice Roberts suggested that the ruling does not create a corruption issue. In the very strict sense of the law I would have to agree with him. In other words, trying to prove that someone’s contribution was a quid pro quo, an element of proof in a bribery case, is very difficult. But if you’ve ever tried to get a call returned from your elected representative in Washington, or a letter that is directly responsive to yours, it won’t happen unless you are a major player. Just a week ago a stream of potential Republican presidential candidates met with multi-billionaire Sheldon Adelson one on one in Las Vegas so that Adelson could determine who would be the recipient of his campaign largess. Is there a doubt that Adelson can get a call returned from any Republican representative anywhere in the USA? Anyone doubt that if Adelson has some concerns to discuss about tax laws, for example, that he will be heard and likely get some support for his special issue?
The very wealthy will sneer at those who exercise their freedom of assembly, a First Amendment protection, when they “occupy Wall Street.” These protestors, with no power, no voice, but with legitimate issues about the unfairness of so many things in government, can only be heard if they rally in unison. But then the right wing media trashes them for being communists, nare-do-wells, lazy, people just looking for handouts and government welfare---and many more pejoratives. Those seeking corporate welfare can pay to do it in private.
Ozzie Myers, a convicted crook, proved to be a sage with his immortal words. He just didn’t know at the time of his gift of prophecy.