This week, Senate majority leader Harry Reid will bring to the floor an amendment to the Constitution that would permit Congress and the states to target the resources that certain people use to speak about candidates and issues at election time. A commentator recently complained that bringing this amendment to the floor wastes the Senate’s time, because the proposal has no chance of securing the supermajorities it would need to be passed and ratified. I nevertheless would welcome a prolonged debate.
My reason is not that I favor the amendment. Giving Congress the power to send people to jail for messaging at election time seems to me the most pernicious effort to suppress free speech by the federal legislature since the Alien and Sedition Acts. Prohibiting expenditures on political speech curtails the opportunity for citizens to make their voices heard and for other citizens to learn what their representatives are doing. And allowing members of Congress to determine the content of such restrictions turns the First Amendment’s charter of freedom into a delegation for regulation by self-interested regulators.