About Speech

Kentucky lawyer Edward Bonnie attacks the "free speech" arguments against public financing of elections in the Courier Journal op-ed. Arguing that Fair and Clean Elections programs promote, rather than limit, speech Bonnie talks up the promise of the Fair Elections Now Act introduced in the Senate while questioning whether we want to continue to have Sen. Mitch McConnell-style elections where money is the yardstick for a candidate's worth.

This is a great dissection of the faulty reasoning at the heart of the Buckley v. Valeo decision that has hindered efforts to reduce the role of big money in politics:

I fundamentally disagree, as a lawyer and a citizen, with the notion that how much money one has or can raise determines their political worth. That to me seems antithetical to all the advances our democracy has made over the years in expanding suffrage. Our Constitution clearly sets age and residency requirements for those who can serve in public office. But nowhere are there economic prerequisites. Money may equal speech when you own a car dealership and need to advertise a Lincoln Day sale, but nowhere in the Constitution is the right to drown out the voices of ordinary people when it comes to running for elective office.

Clean Elections public financing programs have held up very well under court challenges that employ the Buckley v. Valeo argument because under these systems the use of public financing is entirely voluntary for the candidates. Unfortunately, Clean Elections opponents like McConnell continue to trot out "money is speech" and muddle discussion about the actual speech of voters and potential candidates shut out of big money politics with a full-throated defense of the right of special interests to write big checks to drown out everybody else.