The Supreme Court dealt another blow to free-speech rights late last month, ruling 5-to-4 in the case of Federal Election Commission v. Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Commission that the government may regulate how much money a state political party spends in support of its own political candidates. Members of the House of Representatives, who will take up debate on its version of McCain-Feingold next week, hailed the ruling.
On the question of how political campaigns are funded today, many Republicans and Democrats — and a majority of the Supreme Court — seem to agree on two things: First, money equals corruption. Second, because there is an awful lot of money in politics today, our politics must be awfully corrupt. That's why they say government should further regulate how Americans speak and spend their money.
Of course, it is only political speech that is to be curbed. Licentious speech, including profanity and sexual exhibitionism, enjoys unprecedented freedom. As Justice Clarence Thomas remarked in his dissenting opinion to last week's decision,
I remain baffled that this Court has extended the most generous First Amendment safeguards to filing lawsuits, wearing profane jackets, and exhibiting drive-in movies with nudity, but has offered only tepid protection to the core speech and associational rights that the Founders sought to defend.
So why all the excitement on Capitol Hill for campaign finance reform, when in the end it simply limits the most important kind of speech, political speech? And why is it that for all the sanctimonious talk about "getting special interests out of politics," no one mentions the interest that will benefit most from increased campaign finance regulation — government itself?
The answer is Progressivism, a radical philosophy that swept across America a century ago. Regulating how Americans participate in politics is just one of its legacies.
The brainchild of Darwinian thinkers and political leaders such as Woodrow Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt, John Dewey, and Herbert Croly, Progressivism sought to replace limited, constitutional government by consent with unlimited, bureaucratic government. Government-by-bureaucratic-fiat was regarded as an innovative government reform, because professional bureaucrats would be impartial in doling out justice. Unlike elected, partisan officials, professional bureaucrats would not be beholden to "special interests," or corrupted by money in politics. Sound familiar?
The one thing that has stood in the way of Progressive politics is the United States Constitution. The American Founders understood that, historically, governments more often than not have been the usurper of liberties. Thus they believed it important to protect individual rights by explicitly limiting the power of government in a written constitution.
For the Progressives, however, this is a problem. Limited government can neither regulate our lives nor redistribute our wealth in the name of "social justice." As Woodrow Wilson put it, the American Constitution is little more than "political witchcraft" from the past, and ought to be discarded so that we can get on with the Progressive project of building a "national state."
Progressivism made great strides with the stewardship of Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. The New Deal and the Great Society were the means of enacting — and enshrining — many of the regulatory schemes that Wilson and the original Progressives only dreamed of.
Naturally, as government increasingly regulates how Americans do their business, Americans want to influence those regulations. And there is the rub.
Citizens respond to the over-regulation of Progressive government by speaking out and spending money to influence Progressive politics. Government, in turn, now says it needs to restrict how Americans engage in politics, further regulating our lives, because there is too much money in politics. But would all this money be spent on politics if government did not regulate and control so much of our lives?
It's no coincidence that every major campaign reform law in American history has followed a surge in the growth of government regulation. The Tillman Act of 1907 followed the Progressive Movement; the Hatch Act of 1939 followed the New Deal; and the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, and the 1974 FECA amendments — the most sweeping attempt yet to implement government control over campaign finance — followed the Great Society.
And so the Progressive cycle continues.
In the end, campaign finance reform is nothing more than a cover for increasing the size and scope of the federal government, a government that already exercises too much unconstitutional power over its citizens. Whether "reformers" identify themselves as Democrats or Republicans is unimportant.
They are above all Progressives, and they are enemies of what is left of constitutional government in America.