The worst idea since Prohibition

When then-Illinois State Senator Barack Obama sat down for a 2001 interview with WBEZ radio in Chicago, he spoke of the Constitution as, “a charter of negative liberties; says what the states can't do to you, says what the federal government can't do to you,” as if protecting Americans from their government was somehow problematic.

Today, we’re seeing the Democratic Party President Obama leads take action to amend the Constitution so that the government can do something to you -- restrict free speech.

Senate Democrats are seeking to re-write the First Amendment to the Constitution to restrict speech in politics via Senate Joint Resolution 19 (S.J. Res. 19).

Forty-one senators, all of them Democrats save one “independent” who caucuses with them, have co-sponsored a constitutional amendment that lets government control who can spend money in a political campaign and how much they can spend. It’s a direct assault on the most fundamental right of Americans.


It is well established that money is the equivalent of speech. This was settled with the Supreme Court decision in Buckley v. Valeo, which overturned parts of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971.  The rationale was straightforward; the ability to "speak" with the freedom intended by the Founders involves the use of mass media and speaking via mass media means raising and spending a lot of money.

The court left untouched limits on how much money people can give to individual campaigns, but overturned sections of the law that limited how much money candidates can raise and spend to get elected, as well as how much individual citizens can spend of their own money expressing their political views, independently of candidates and campaigns.

The proposal before the Senate would allow Congress and the states to set limits and regulate the independent political speech and expenditures by organizations, citizens and groups of citizens.

It’s a neat trick that would silence political opponents by rationing the money that citizens groups can raise or spend. Another reason for Democrats to like this amendment is that it protects incumbent politicians who enjoy an enormous financial advantage over their challengers.

This advantage begins with the taxpayer funding of their House or Senate office.  Over the course of a single term in office, this amounts to millions of dollars for Capitol Hill and home district staff. This includes communications staff, legislative staff, people working in constituent services and so forth. Detractors will say these staff work on behalf of their constituents but it’s the height of naivete to believe there is no political advantage to having a taxpayer-funded staff for the entire term of a member of Congress.

Added to this is money from political action committees (PACs).  Many Inside-the-Beltway PACs give donations for reasons of tribute, to ensure access to incumbents.

Among the biggest PACs are those run by labor unions, which give almost exclusively to Democrats.  Business PACs usually split their money fairly evenly, often slightly favoring the party in power.

With all the advantages of incumbency, what’s a challenger to do?  For now, they can raise the money necessary to mount a credible campaign for office.  But if Senate Democrats have their way by restricting a right that is as old as the republic itself, challengers won’t stand a chance.

Independent citizens groups would be relegated to the sideline and the government will remain larded with unresponsive incumbents, insulated from challengers and ultimately, the people they represent.

One hundred years ago, there was another effort underway to restrict the rights of people through an amendment to the Constitution.  It was the prohibition movement and it brought us the 18th Amendment, ushering in one of the most violent and corrupt eras in American history.  It took 13 years and another constitutional amendment to correct that colossal mistake.

We needn't repeat this failed experiment in using the Constitution to restrict the personal freedom of Americans.  President Obama and his fellow Democrats may decry the “negative liberties” of our Constitution, but they keep government from running roughshod over the rights of citizens.  S.J. Res 19 is the worst constitutional proposal since Prohibition and right thinking Americans will recognize it as such.