A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Schrader’s amendment: Bad idea

Written May 18th, 2014 by Hasso Hering
Cattle grazing in Southern Oregon need not worry about protecting liberty, but we should. (How's that for making use of a completely unrelated photo?)

Cattle grazing in Southern Oregon need not worry about protecting liberty, but we should. (How’s that for making use of a completely unrelated photo?)

Oregon Congressman Kurt Schrader, D-5th District, wants to fiddle with the First Amendment in order to keep rich people from supporting lots of candidates in federal elections. He should forget it. Once we start making exceptions to freedom of speech, other limits on liberty will be easier to impose.

Schrader brought this topic up in an email to residents of his district, which includes parts of Benton County. He’s upset over two Supreme Court rulings that struck down parts of federal election law. One was Citizens United, which threw out a ban on spending money to criticize a federal candidate within a certain period before an election. The other was the recent decision in the McCutcheon case, where the court struck down a limit on how many candidates someone could support with contributions.

Both cases were properly decided. It is a plain violation of the First Amendment to tell citizens they cannot circulate a movie critical of a candidate. (This was a movie against Hillary Clinton in 2008.) And if there is no threat of corruption in making limited contributions to one candidate, how can there be corruption in contributing limited amounts to two, three or even 100 candidates? (No corruption times one hundred is still zero corruption.)

Congressman Kurt Schrader

Congressman Kurt Schrader

Burt Schrader is alarmed. He says the rulings allow the voices of the majority of voters to be drowned out by a few rich people.

“This is beyond wrong – it’s dangerous,” he writes. “It threatens to transform our democracy into a system where only the wealthy have a say and citizens of more modest means are left by the wayside. It makes public officials less accountable to their constituents and more beholden to special interests. This is not what our Founding Fathers intended.”

Well, one thing the Founders did intend was to protect liberty from the clutches of government officials. That’s why they wrote and got the original states to adopt the First Amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights. We can be fairly sure that the Founders would have been skeptical of a Federal Election Commission that could punish citizens for being overly active in politics.

Schrader, unconvinced, says he proposed a change to the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech rights. The text is not available online, and he didn’t provide it. But he says: “My amendment would add a new clause to the Constitution affirming money’s potentially corrupting influence in our democracy and that it is therefore proper for Congress to pass legislation to limit the excessive use of money to buy elections.”

This sounds like a dangerous plan. Members  of Congress would likely soon consider “excessive” and therefore unlawful any amount of money spent in an attempt to throw them out of office.

It’s also dangerous because any newly legislated limit on free speech would invite others. Far more potentially destructive to a decent society than money, for example, is popular entertainment. So it would be tempting for Congress to impose some form of censorship.

There is no apparent danger that Schrader’s proposed amendment will go anywhere. And that’s a good thing. But his proposing it reminds us that liberty, in campaigns and otherwise, always faces potential threats from the political class. (hh)

3 responses to “Schrader’s amendment: Bad idea”

  1. Jim Clausen says:

    Blue skies on the horizon as cattle graze, is a common sight in Southern Oregon, but clear skies for our 1st Amendment are seen far less often. (How‘s that for making use of a completely unrelated photo and comment by a reporter / blogger?)

    Like the above picture, Kurt Schrader is full of bull. While Kurt laments evil corporations and the Koch brothers, he totally ignores the special interests of unions.

    Unions such as SEIU and AFLCIO have poured millions into current races. The top 5 amounts were all union driven (SEIU / AFLCIO / etc). $98,000,000 was the top union contribution. Graduating down from there to the Koch brothers (5th place) topped off at around $35,000,000.

    Kurt will NEVER say anything bad about union contributions. He’s been bought and paid for by them for years. Kurt’s real problem is not with lots of money in politics. Kurt’s real problem is with opposing money in politics. Money that he can not get his greedy little hands on.

    Kurt is full of bull and as long as he is in office our 1st amendment rights will not see blue skies. . .

  2. Warren Beeson says:

    Let’s call this the “Harry Reid Amendment” and it tells us where Democrats (Progressives) interests really are. Reid is a senile, hypocritical, corrupt politician who has been in office way too long for his, and our, good. This proposed curb on free speech is really about using government to keep the opposition from being heard. If you can’t spend money on getting heard, your message can’t get out; just as is using the IRS to do so. The goal is to perpetuate and enlarge the power of government over people. Schrader needs to go, as do all the other supporters of Obamacare.

  3. Jim Engel says:

    Typical electionering. Make noise to alert voters to a non-problem, act like you really, really mean it, then quietly over time abandon it. You can then claim you were for voters rights!!! JE


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