Neoconservative author and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza was sentenced to eight months in a “community confinement center” and a $30,000 fine for making illegal campaign contributions. In 2012, campaign finance laws limited individuals to contributions of $2,500 to a single candidate in a primary and $2,500 in a general election. D’Souza’s crime was that he reimbursed two other individuals for making contributions to the campaign of New York U.S. Senate candidate Wendy Long.
The current limits for federal elections are $2,600 for both primary and general election. The real question in all this is how Congress can violate the freedom of speech of D’Souza or anyone else with such a law. Giving campaign contributions to political candidates is a form of speech. The First Amendment clearly states that Congress “shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.” Limiting campaign contributions, then, is like limiting the number of words that a person can say on a given topic. Should the federal government be able to imprison someone who has said too much on a given issue?
In 1974, following the Watergate scandal, Congress amended the Federal Election Campaign Act passed in 1971 to limit the amount that any given person could contribute to candidates or political parties in a calendar year. In McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (2014), the Supreme Court ruled that aggregate limits, which placed a cap on the total amount that a person could contribute as a whole to multiple candidates, was an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment, but it held that the individual limits were constitutional. The individual limits were upheld by the Court in Buckley v. Valeo (1976), which held that limits on large campaign contributions were justified for “the prevention of corruption and the appearance of corruption spawned by the real or imagined coercive influence of large financial contributions on candidates' positions and on their actions if elected to office.” The Court defined ‘corruption’ as “large contributions … given to secure a political quid pro quo from current and potential office holders.”
The reason that the Court needed to jump through such hoops to justify a clear and egregious violation of the First Amendment is that the power of the federal government has grown far beyond the confines of the Constitution. Over the past century, the federal government has grown into a nearly almighty entity despite the fact that the enumerated federal powers in the Constitution are extremely limited. If Congress and the President performed their duties within the clear dictates of the Constitution, then they simply would not be worth attempting to buy. A minarchist night-watchman state—such as Emershaw’s Individualist State as developed in detail in my new book The Real Culture War—would not possess the power to do what crony capitalist special interests seek. However, an Imperial President which rules as a Caesar through unconstitutional executive agencies and executive orders and a Congress which rules like an oligarchy through misuse of the Commerce Clause, Necessary and Proper Clause, and General Welfare Clause are both well worth buying. Two wrongs do not make a right, and violating one of the sacrosanct Amendments present in the Bill of Rights in order to counterbalance the unconstitutional overgrowth of federal power is unacceptable. Fear of corruption is no justification to violate freedom of speech. However, perhaps this fear could be an inducement for the federal government to return to its constitutional limits.
(For a much more detailed discussion of natural rights including freedom of speech, read my new book The Real Culture War: Individualism vs. Collectivism & How Bill O’Reilly Got It All Wrong. Available now on Amazon in both print and Kindle.)