Betsy McCaughey: Pelosi, Schumer vs. free speech
Democrats are hyperventilating over a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on April 2, McCutcheon v. Federal Elections Commission. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi claims the ruling will turn politics into a “money war.” Sorry, that happened a long time ago.
For the past two decades, unions have poured massive amounts into super PACS and other legal vehicles for advertising and get out the vote efforts to favor Democrats. What’s got Pelosi and other Democrats worried is competition. The high court ruling could mean more money for Republican candidates, even Tea Party activists.
The Supreme Court split 5-4 on the hot button issue of whether individuals should have the liberty to spend as much of their own money supporting candidates and political parties as they choose. The narrow majority ruled “yes,” so long as a donor doesn’t give more than $2,600 to a single candidate during a primary or again during a general election . The case was brought by an Alabama businessman, Shaun McCutcheon, who said his goal was to support as many candidates as possible who want “smaller government and more freedom.”
Before the ruling, individuals were limited to spending $123,200 overall during an election cycle, no matter how they spread out their donations among candidates and committees. That overall limit muzzles an individual’s political speech in violation of the First Amendment, the majority ruled. Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, argued that the Bill of Rights bars Congress from restraining political speech except to prevent “quid pro quo” corruption. The $2,600 limit per candidate will prevent that.
Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the minority, disagreed, insisting that even though wealthy donors will have to spread their money around, they’ll wield influence over politicians.
Maybe so, but that’s what unions have been doing for decades. Since 1989, the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the National Education Association, and other unions have dominated the list of political spenders, with virtually none of it going to Republican candidates or committees. (Only two corporations — Goldman Sachs and AT&T — come close to spending as much, and they split their donations between the parties.)
Wonder of wonders, union donations open doors, especially to the Obama White House, where union leaders are frequent visitors. When waivers were handed out to allow some workers to keep health plans that did not comply with the Obamacare regulations in 2011 and 2012, union workers got 83 percent of the waivers, despite making up only 6 percent of the workforce.
Breyer complains that the Court’s ruling “substitutes judges’ understanding of how the political process works for the understanding of Congress.”
You bet. That’s the court’s role when the rights of individuals are threatened. Members of Congress will favor self-serving rules that protect their own re-election and their big government agenda. The constitutional rights of opponents be damned.
Look at the blatantly un-American attitude of Sen. Chuck Schumer, D. N.Y., who is also calling for enlarging the powers of the IRS to suppress Tea Party activists. Responding to the high court ruling, Schumer warned that it could allow “a small number of people who really want to paralyze the government” to support more Tea Party candidates. What Schumer calls “paralyzing government” other Americans call supporting smaller government and more freedom. Schumer is unwilling to accord those competing views First Amendment protection.
Pelosi even went so far as to say the Supreme Court ruling should be “roundly rejected.” Roberts anticipated the furor and cautioned that “in assessing the First Amendment interests at stake, the proper focus is on an individual’s right to engage in political speech, not a collective conception of the public good.” In short, the Democratic Party’s collectivist goals do not trump the Bill of Rights.
James Madison, chief architect of the Constitution, could not have said it better. Madison warned us in Federalist No. 10 about the danger of elected majorities suppressing an individual’s freedom.
Democratic politicians will continue to press their statist agenda, but they will have to compete with conservative and libertarian critics, even those with big megaphones.
Betsy McCaughey is a former lt. governor of New York State and author of “Beating Obamacare 2014.”