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To what extent is freedom to raise unlimited campaign funds justified by the first amendment?

The first amendment dictates that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. One reason how the ability to raise unlimited campaign funds is justified by the first amendment is that the donation that is being given, say by a pressure group, is an expression and an agreement that the candidate will represent the views of that group. Congressmen and the President are figures that are designed to represent the population of America, and with the plethora of pressure groups who have their own ideals and causes, it is only natural that pressure groups would provide a financial incentive so that the campaign can go ahead. More importantly however, pressure groups are the growing form of representation in America, from the AARP for the elderly to the NAACP for those of African descent, pressure groups allow people to voice their opinion without having supporting a party which is a package of policies. For example, in 2012 around 261 candidates (25 Democrats and 236 Republicans) received donations around $650,000 with 80% of them won, this is essential to a pressure group like the NRA who provides such finance as it ensures that their opinions and voice is heard, and thus fulfilling a Democratic principle and conforming to the first amendment.

Another way that unlimited campaign finance is justified by the first amendment is seen with the institution that interprets it—the Supreme Court. The Court is designed to make sure that the other two branches do not infringe the constitution, therefore it can be said that the Court’s interpretations, and subsequent rulings are proof that unlimited campaign finance is protected under the first amendment. For example, BRCA (2002) and earlier with FEC (1974),however major portions of the act were struck down by the Supreme Court on constitutional grounds in FEC vs Wisconsin Right to life inc (2007), Davis v. FEC (2008) and more importantly Citizens United v. FEC (2010). The citizen united ruling also struck down FECA’s complete ban on corporate and union independent spending. It can therefore be said that unlimited campaign finance is justified by the first amendment as those who know it’s inner workings and have professional knowledge say it suffices by being protected under the constitution.

That being said, some would point out about the adverse effects that unlimited campaign finance may have an infringing effect on the freedoms which are highlighted in the constitution. For example, can the money of oil corporations who provide some $120,000 to Obama, to the weak endorsements that environmental groups like the Sierra Club do? What happens is that there is an disproportional representation to certain groups, which turn may infringe their right to express their opinions. For example, the America’s Climate Security Act 2007, which was killed off by Republicans who say that it would damage the US economy after intense lobbying efforts by such companies. It can therefore be said that unlimited campaign finance would break down the walls which protect and provide a framework against disproportional representation. 

Rayhaan I. A Level Government and Politics tutor, GCSE Business Studi...

2 years ago

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