The price tag onfree speech

For the voice of a politician to be heard, his or her financial worth must be great.

In American politics, it is the worth of a man or a woman that determines his or her value to the public. Not intellectual or moral worth – it is rather financial worth. And for the voice of a politician to be heard, his or her financial worth must be great. The president of the United States is the grandson of a senator and son of a president. The Bush family made its riches in the oil business. The three remaining presidential candidates for the 2008 election are all millionaires as well. And since the Clintons left the White House some eight years ago, they have earned well more than $100 million.

Yet, our elected officials are all somehow sons and daughters of mill workers. They all know the struggle of the working man and woman and don;t hesitate to demonstrate how common they are with trips to the bowling alley and shots at the bar. They are just like us. Every election, it is a race to see which candidate seems the most average, while, at the same time, either being a millionaire or supported by millionaire “bundlers” or interest groups.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard a legal challenge to one of the few restrictions to campaign finance – the so-called millionaires’ amendment. The millionaires’ amendment, or Section 319 of the McCain-Feingold law, is implemented when a candidate for the House of Representatives spends more than $350,000 of his or her own money on an election. The candidate’s opponent is then allowed, if certain other conditions are met, to accept larger campaign contributions than the law would normally permit.

There are few unavoidable, loophole-free restrictions in financing campaigns, and the Supreme Court has consistently viewed money the same as speech. As a result, however, those with less money have less speech and those with more money have more speech. This is why millionaires run for office or, at least, those willing to pander to millionaires.

This case highlights the need for real, substantive campaign finance reform in a country where your ability to be elected by your peers is still largely determined by the size of your bank account.