Is Money Everything?
During the CNBC Republican debate on October 28th , presidential nominee Donald Trump said the following: “SuperPacs are a disaster. They're a scam. They cause dishonesty. And you better get rid of them because they are causing a lot of bad decisions to be made by some very good people.” As we’ve all come to expect, his rhetoric was unexpected for a Republican presidential candidate. In general, Republicans favor removing campaign finance regulations, rather than strengthening them. But what can we say, Trump is Trump.
Just a few moments later, a rather insightful comment was made. After being referenced obliquely by one of the moderators, Marco Rubio jumped into the discussion to say: “I know the Democrats have the ultimate SuperPac. It's called the mainstream media!” The crowd went wild, and while the comment was intended to be more witty than intellectually profound, it in reality contained as much profundity as wit. His statement revealed the greatest flaw with the argument for campaign finance regulations, which, due to the fanfare surrounding the statement, was almost entirely missed.
Presently, the law forbids an individual to contribute any more than $5000 to a presidential campaign. The reason for this regulation is simple. It is not fair and it is certainly not democratic for wealthy individuals to have undue influence on political campaigns. By limiting the amount that an individual could contribute to a campaign, one limits the amount of influence that wealthy individuals can have on campaigns, and ultimately, on policy. Ostensibly, the argument sounds reasonable and fair, but does it hold water? With a little bit of scrutiny, it becomes clear that it does not.
Money does not win presidential campaigns. Why not? Because money does not directly affect people’s opinions. Speech affects people’s opinions, not money. People get influenced by the things that they hear and the things that they see. That is it. So where does money come into the picture? Money is merely a means to have your speech heard. If you want somebody to listen to your opinion, you can pay him so that he listens. If you want many people to hear your opinion, you can pay for an advertisement on TV. Thus, while money doesn’t actually talk, it does help you talk. In essence, money is a medium through which we speak. If you limit money, you limit speech.
But the key point is this. Money is not the only thing that enables us to speak. In fact, there are a myriad of things that enable us to speak, of which money is only one. An eloquent speaker can change minds with well-articulated arguments. A talented writer can change minds with elegant prose. A famous person can change minds by simply using his fame, and a businessman can change minds by paying to have people listen. None of the things mentioned above are actual speech, but they are intimately related to it. They are so much part and parcel of speech, that for practical purposes they are indistinguishable from it. Just ask yourself the following. Would it not be a violation of “free speech” to forbid a writer from writing convincingly? Would it not be a violation of “free speech” to forbid a speaker from speaking articulately? So why is it not a violation of free speech to forbid somebody from contributing money to a campaign, in order to have himself heard?
This is why Marco Rubio’s statements were so insightful. By equating the mainstream media to a SuperPac, he essentially equated two forms of speech: direct monetary contributions to a political campaign, and direct rhetorical contributions to a political campaign. There is no difference between the two, and limiting one is as much a violation of “free speech” as limiting the other.
So why are politicians, primarily Democrats, so eager to limit the amount of monetary speech people can expend during the political process? Perhaps, it is because Democrats are fixated on money, and this is not as pejorative as it is descriptive. Democrats tend to explain problems in pecuniary terms. It is why a White House spokesperson recently claimed that a lack of jobs is responsible for fostering radical Islamic ideologies in the Middle East. It is also why Democrats believe that our inferiority in education is due to a lack of education spending, despite the fact that we spend more per student than any other country in the world. In the same way, Democrats greatly exaggerate the effects of money on the political process, and it is what leads them to fear this kind of political speech over others.
But there is good news for proponents of campaign finance regulations. They may not be all that necessary anyways. Jeb Bush, the Republican candidate with the most money, is practically out of the race. Donald Trump, on the other hand, has barely spent a penny, and has led in the polls for months. Perhaps money doesn’t really influence the political process that much after all. In an era where information is free and easily accessible, perhaps you can say that monetary speech has lost its value. What matters most in an era where information is free is ideas, and money is becoming increasingly unnecessary for their dissemination. The famous idiom, “Money isn’t everything,” has never been more true.