Are Political Donations Free Speech? Then Why Should They Be Monitored?

In light of the Branden Eich purge from Mozilla, I noticed a question that came up on the Lew Rockwell blog. Rockwell wrote, in response to the question, “Are campaign donations ‘free speech’?”

Clearly not, it seems to me, despite los Supremos. Of course, people interested in electoral politics should be able to spend as much money as they want promoting or denouncing one power-luster as versus another, or 100 of them. But how is paying a government candidate of a government political party in a government election to rule us “speech”?

Lawrence Vance agrees with him.

I have been thinking about this along with what happened with the IRS leaking Eich’s contribution to a campaign to defend a real marriage. For one thing, the First Amendment isn’t only about the speech and the press but also about religion and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances.

It seems to me that the First Amendment must assume some kind of overarching freedom that covers all these different areas. Since we have come to refer to the First Amendment as the “Free Speech” amendment, it makes sense that people would come to think of this overarching exercise in freedom as related to an exercise in free speech.

Given that fact, it is not hard for me to connect petitioning the government for redress and voting. They are not the same actions but both are freedoms in a Republic aimed at getting a just situation (or closer to it).

Furthermore, we also vote for candidates not only for what they do but for what we want them to say. Many people voted for Ron Paul because they wanted to hear him defend his policies as much as they wanted him to enact those policies. So voting is a way of speaking.

For example, some blogs don’t rely on Google ads but on donations. So if I was a donor I would be supporting the proclamation of a message even though I was not speaking myself. This would definitely be a kind of First Amendment activity.

And if I was afraid my boss would fire me if he knew that I supported the blog, then my right to keep my activity private would also be a part of free speech. If the government sent my boss my name and a list of my donations to a blog he hated, then the government would be violating my First Amendment rights.

So likewise, if the government restricted me from supporting a blog by limiting my donations, that would violate my free speech.

So the difference between voting and free speech gets quite thin, to my mind. I can donate to a blog supporting a political cause and I can support a candidate who advocates and, once in offices, promises to support a political cause.

So even if Lew Rockwell is right according to the dictionary, I can see why a judge might reason differently when considering how the Constitution applied to voting.

Thinking this through makes me wonder about something else. Why do you think you vote in a closed booth so that no one can see what you do? What would happen if everyone had their vote digitally recorded under their name in an open database? Obviously, many others would get the Branden Eich treatment.

But if I have the right to private voting, why do I not have the right to private donations to politicians? That was literally what happened to Branden Eich.

Of course, I know the answer: we don’t want corruption and vote purchasing. I understand. But I just want to point out that there are also problems with keeping those records.