The following is a reprint of a piece published in OpEdNews which was originally entitled Reconsider Buckley v Valeo with permission by the author, Sam Fedele, the coordinator of the Move to Amend affiliate in Rochester, NY.
Conservative Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito is widely acknowledged by legal experts as a constitutional scholar of super-star prominence. But in a November 15th speech made at a Federalist Society dinner he made an interesting misstep. In defending the 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC he provided the rationale for overturning the landmark decision in Buckley v. Valeo.
Reflecting on public criticism of the 5-4 decision in Citizens United he noted, “The question is whether speech that goes to the very heart of government should be limited to certain preferred corporations; namely, media corporations. Surely the idea that the First Amendment protects only certain privileged voices should be disturbing to anybody who believes in free speech.”
Certainly, he says, we should not abide free speech protections for only certain privileged voices. But this is exactly the dictate of Buckley v. Valeo. This 1976 ruling decided that Congress could not limit the amount of money an individual could independently spend on elections because doing so would amount to a restriction of free speech, albeit only the free speech of the privileged class who can afford it!
An analysis of money spent on the 2012 federal elections shows that only 0.37% of contributors, a privileged few indeed, donated more than $200, but that this small group accounted for more than 67% of the total spent! In fact, a “privileged few individuals” provided the bulk of 2012 super PAC funding, and Buckley enforced their right to do so.
If Alito believes his own words, then the Court should reconsider Buckley v. Valeo. This decision enshrined privileged free speech by establishing a property requirement, one excluding those without expendable cash (47% of Americans by a recent CBO report).
Buckley’s “money is speech” doctrine also puts space between members of the privileged class itself by creating a form of speech which scales with wealth. The more money one has the more speech one has. This rings Orwellian. Some speakers are more equal than others. And with the media focus of modern elections, political speech that effectively reaches the masses is reserved for the modern aristocracy alone. So yes, Justice Alito, I agree with you, this is disturbing.
Sam Fedele is a retired engineering manager who has concluded that the root cause problem underlying virtually every significant issue in modern America is the impact of big money on our electoral process. Sam has been involved in efforts to push back against big money special interests since 2006, formally through the Metro Justice of Rochester/ Citizen Action of NY “clean elections” campaign, informally via editorials and blogs, and has recently kicked off a coordinated local effort to raise awareness of the serious implications of the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Citizens United v. the Federal Election. The “Seditious Sitizen” YouTube channel has been created to share insights on this issue, lay out the long term solution, and recommend concrete ways to get involved in its implementation.