Mr. President, I want to commend the Senator from South Carolina, Senator Hollings, for his many years of effort to reform our campaign system. His commitment to this endeavor is principled and longstanding.
I have supported the Senator's efforts in the past, cosponsoring and voting for his legislation that would amend the first amendment of the Constitution to allow Congress and the States to limit the amount of money spent on political campaigns.
Mr. President, with all due respect to his efforts and my past efforts, however, I rise today to speak in opposition to the Senator's proposed constitutional amendment.
I have supported the Senator from South Carolina's effort in the past because I believed then, as I do now, that we need to improve our current campaign system. But, in my zeal for reform, I ignored what was really at stake.
Over the past weeks, however, after much thought and consideration--after many discussions with constituents and reviewing the writings of many constitutional scholars, all of who support campaign finance reform--I have come to the conclusion that amending the first amendment would be far worse than the current situation.
Indeed, if we passed a constitutional amendment to amend the first amendment to solve our current campaign finance problems, the cure would be worse than the disease.
Mr. President, the proposed constitutional amendment simply takes away too much--the cost is too high and the risks too great.
The first amendment is properly viewed as one of the most sacrosanct bundle of rights protected under the U.S. Constitution and this proposed resolution would strike at the heart of the first amendment--core political speech.
Mr. President, to support such a repeal, is to threaten the very breath of every other right protected under the Constitution--and then nothing is sacred, nothing is sure, nothing is protected.
Without free speech, liberty has no meaning.
And this amendment would seek to do what the Supreme Court has said cannot be done under the first amendment of our Constitution.
In 1974, in the seminal case of Buckley versus Valeo, the Supreme Court as the Presiding Officer knows, struck down the Federal Election Campaign Act's expenditure limits on candidates, individuals, and groups on first amendment grounds--finding that the Government's interest in, among other things, reducing the appearance of corruption was insufficient to justify restricting core political speech and expression.
Mr. President, the question facing the Supreme Court was, at bottom: ``whether a person can be prohibited from spending money to communicate an idea, belief, or call to action''? The Court's answer was ``no.''
Since Buckley, the Court has consistently found that the first amendment protects political speech and expression rights from intrusive government restrictions such as campaign spending limits.
In FEC versus National Conservative Political Action Committee the Court again struck down spending limits. This time, reaffirming that restrictions on independent expenditures by political committees on publicly funded presidential general election campaigns violate the core of the first amendment's protections.
More recently, in Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Committee versus FEC, the Court found that political party expenditures made without coordination of a candidate were entitled to first amendment protection as independent expenditures.
The Court rejected the argument that independent expenditures threaten corruption or give the appearance of corruption.
Mr. President, this amendment is about more than just overturning one Supreme Court case, it is about overruling a whole line of first amendment case law.
Over the years, the Court has made it clear that the Buckley decision was not some fluke. In fact, Buckley has been reaffirmed many times over. The answer should not be to undo the first amendment because it is viewed as an impediment to reform.
There are better, perhaps more realistic and more effective ways of addressing the problems in our campaign finance system.
Mr. President, I believe that changes can be made to improve our current system and I intend to support efforts to reform our current campaign finance system.
But first, we need to start by enforcing current law, especially in regard to foreign contributions. No foreign contributions should be allowed to influence our political process.
It is important to remember that adopting this amendment won't do anything to address the abuses that have recently come to light regarding the White House, DNC fundraisers and foreign influence. Existing laws were broken in accepting foreign contributions.
However, we all know that our current laws are not sufficient. We need to target abusive practices which both parties agree should be eliminated.
And, Mr. President, I believe that one of the most far reaching and important changes we can make in the system we have today is to demand full disclosure of all campaign contributions and expenditures. The public has a right to know where all funds in the political system come from and where they go.
I also remain fully opposed to any form of public financing of political campaigns and intend to fight efforts to shift the cost and effort of running for public office from political candidates to the taxpayer of America.
I find it offensive that some would argue that the only way we can purify the political process and eliminate the appearance of corruption is to launder campaign funding through the U.S. Treasury.
American taxpayers should not be forced to pay for political campaigns. We have public financing of Presidential campaigns now, and you can see how effective that was in reducing corruption or the appearance of corruption in the last election.
Mr. President, reform cannot and should not come at the expense of the public, and yet the reform proposals now being put forth would first rob American citizens of their first amendment rights under the Constitution and then require them to pay for the cost of political campaigns.
What a deal. Reform could not be easier--for the political establishment.
This amendment has serious ramifications beyond the immediate restrictions placed on an individual's rights to free speech and expression. This amendment also threatens the power of the American people over their Government.
By restricting the right to speak freely and to participate in the political process, we restrict our rights to political debate and reduce our ability to control and check our Government. In fact, we give up even the pretense of self-government.
I would rather be criticized for changing a position than forever limiting the rights of Americans to speak, to argue, and to participate in the world's oldest constitutional democracy.
Again, I sincerely commend my friend and colleague, Senator Hollings, for his effort and commitment to campaign finance reform, but I wish he would reconsider, as I have, his commitment to change the first amendment. I think it would be a mistake now. I yield the floor.
Mr. WYDEN addressed the Chair.
The Senator from Washington.
Mr. President, I yield myself 15 minutes of the time taken by the minority leader, Mr. Daschle.
- October 6, 1997
- March 21, 2001
- February 29, 2000
- March 28, 2001
- April 2, 2001
- September 18, 2000
- April 2, 2001
- October 18, 1999
- October 6, 1997
- March 20, 2001