Cover image for Unfree speech : the folly of campaign finance reform
Unfree speech : the folly of campaign finance reform
Smith, Bradley A.
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Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
xiv, 286 pages ; 25 cm
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JK1991 .S56 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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At a time when campaign finance reform is widely viewed as synonymous with cleaning up Washington and promoting political equality, Bradley Smith, a nationally recognized expert on campaign finance reform, argues that all restriction on campaign giving should be eliminated. In Unfree Speech , he presents a bold, convincing argument for the repeal of laws that regulate political spending and contributions, contending that they violate the right to free speech and ultimately diminish citizens' power.

Smith demonstrates that these laws, which often force ordinary people making modest contributions of cash or labor to register with the Federal Election Commission or various state agencies, fail to accomplish their stated objectives. In fact, they have worked to entrench incumbents in office, deaden campaign discourse, burden grassroots political activity with needless regulation, and distance Americans from an increasingly professional, detached political class. Rather than attempting to plug "loopholes" in campaign finance law or instituting taxpayer-financed campaigns, Smith proposes a return to core First Amendment values of free speech and an unfettered right to engage in political activity.

Smith finds that campaign contributions have little corrupting effect on the legislature and shows that an unrestrained system of contributions and spending actually enhances equality. More money, not less, is needed in the political system, Smith concludes. Unfree Speech draws upon constitutional law and historical research to explain why campaign finance regulation is doomed and to illustrate the potentially drastic costs of efforts to make it succeed. Whatever one thinks about the impact of money on electoral politics, no one should take a final stand without reading Smith's controversial and important arguments.

Author Notes

Bradley A. Smith is Professor of Law at Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio. As of May 2000, he has been serving a six-year term on the Federal Election Commission.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

In early 2000, Smith, a professor at Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio, was nominated to a six-year term on the Federal Election Commission. That's significant because Smith is a notable academic supporter of the notion that money equals speech, the position partially espoused by the U.S. Supreme Court in Buckley v. Valeo and aggressively presented by some Republicans in opposing current campaign finance reform legislation. His book explores the history (and unintended consequences) of previous campaign finance regulation, discusses constitutional issues, and analyzes future alternatives. At the center of Smith's argument is a utilitarian analysis of the behavior of candidates, contributors, and voters. He challenges reformers' assumptions that too much money is spent on campaigns, giant contributions drown out the voice of the people, spending determines results, and campaign money corrupts Congress. Although more sympathetic to disclosure than to contribution limits, Smith is ultimately a First Amendment absolutist, urging that any limitation on campaign contributions restricts free speech. Both opponents and supporters of McCain-Feingold should spend some time with this thoughtful study. --Mary Carroll

Publisher's Weekly Review

Law professor and Federal Election Commission member Smith does not beat around the bush: "Almost everything the American people know, or think they know, about campaign finance reform is wrong," and he proceeds to say why in a work that is both enlightening and entertaining. The popular perception of campaign financing is that of a corrupt system in which a few wealthy contributors have undue influence upon the decisions of lawmakers. In fact, Smith goes to great lengths to show, the system works pretty well. Comparatively, he says, not that much is really spent on campaigns Americans spend more on both potato chips and Barbie dolls and there is little if any proof that the system does in fact corrupt or privilege one group's interests over those of others. But reformers must reform, and in doing so, Smith says, they have made matters worse. Reform has tended to favor incumbents and wealthy candidates, to discourage grassroots organizing, to turn campaign discussion into a mush of platitudes. And with every reform failure the reformers must add another reform, until campaign finance regulation becomes a "mosh pit" of confusion and cross-purposes. This might all be funny were it not, Smith contends, that campaign finance reform is simply unconstitutional he argues that it threatens the freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment. To say the least, there are many who will disagree with Smith's findings and conclusions. But this is a marvelous contrarian view: moderate in tone, elegant in language, clever in argument. (Mar.) Forecast: Could a book be more timely? If Princeton promotes it vigorously, it should generate some controversy among pundits and sell honorably well. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

The regulation of money in campaigns and elections has dominated the topic of political reform since Watergate. According to Smith, a member of the Federal Election Commission, efforts to clean up the political process by limiting how much one can spend has not made campaigns more fair, elections less corrupt, or improved the public's confidence in government. Instead of more restrictions, the solution is to remove all limits on how much money one can spend for political purposes, so long as it is disclosed. Beginning with a history of money and politics that commences with George Washington, this readable book provides an overview of numerous efforts to regulate campaign spending. From there Smith questions many of the basic assumptions of current reform strategies--e.g., that too much money is spent on campaigns--and then contends that recent and proposed policies have or will fail. In the end, the author agrees with court decisions that spending money for political purposes is a protected First Amendment free speech right and that only some form of disclosure is constitutionally permitted. Suitable for collections on campaign finance reform, campaigns and elections, and US politics. All levels. D. Schultz Hamline University

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Chapter 1 Introductionp. 3
Part I The Cost of Campaigns and the Price of Reform
Chapter 2 Money Talks: A Short History of Campaign Spending, Regulation, and Reformp. 17
Chapter 3 Faulty Assumptions of Campaign Finance Reformp. 39
Chapter 4 The Folly of Reform: Consequences of Campaign Finance Regulationp. 65
Chapter 5 Some Problems with the Solution of Government Financingp. 88
Part II Constitutional Matters
Chapter 6 Money and Speechp. 109
Chapter 7 Money and Corruptionp. 122
Chapter 8 Money and Equalityp. 137
Part III Real and Imagined Reform of Campaign Finance
Chapter 9 Unfree Speech: The Future of Regulatory "Reform"p. 169
Chapter 10 Real Equality, Real Corruption, Real Reformp. 201
Notesp. 229
Bibliographyp. 259
Indexp. 279