The Point of Limiting Donations Isn’t to Make Elections Cheaper or Less Irritating

Money as speech

(Mike Licht after Norman Rockwell)

USA Today‘s story (4/3/14) on the Supreme Court’s eliminating cumulative campaign contribution limits in the McCutcheon decision began with this:

The way the Supreme Court sees it, Americans’ free speech rights are more important than stopping US elections from becoming ever more expensive.

Well, no–the point of contribution limits isn’t to make elections cheaper; it’s to limit the ability of the very wealthy to dominate politics. Framing the issue as a choice between the First Amendment and frugality is a good way to put a thumb on the scale. (To be fair, the article goes on to acknowledge that the decision will “boost the influence of money in politics and the power of wealthy donors and party leaders.”)

Likewise, the Chicago Tribune (4/3/14) distorted the concerns of advocates of limits on contributions when it editorialized:

Election years might be less noisy or irritating if less money were spent by people who want to spread a message.

The worry is not that elections will be more “noisy” or “irritating”–it’s that our society will be more oligarchic.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.