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Individuals and organizations have a constitutional right to unlimited spending on their own political speech

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  • Does a Flood of Money in Politics Drown Out Free Speech?

    Clip: Debaters Burt Neuborne, Nadine Strossen, and Zephyr Teachout discuss whether money spent on political speech amplifies the message, or drowns out other points of view.

  • Money Almost Always Wins: Look at Yankees vs. Mets

    CLip: Debaters Burt Neuborne, Nadine Strossen, and Floyd Abrams discuss the power of money in politics and the advantage (or not) of disproportionate spending.

Debate Details

Is independent political speech the linchpin of our democracy or its Achilles' heel?  For democracy to work, some say, citizens (and corporations, and unions, and media outlets, and other voluntary organizations) must be allowed to express their views on the issues, candidates, and elections of the day. This proposition, they say, is exactly why the First Amendment protects the freedom of speech and of the press. On this view, restrictions on independent political speech undermine and subvert our constitutional structure. But others take a different view: If everyone can spend as much money as they like to express their political views, then some voices will be amplified, magnified and enhanced—while others will be all but drowned out. On this view, it is this inequality of influence that subverts our constitutional structure—and restrictions that level the playing field actually enhance rather than abridge the freedom of speech.

The Debaters

For the motion

Floyd Abrams

1st Amendment Authority & Partner, Cahill Gordon & Reindel

Floyd Abrams, one of the leading legal authorities on the First Amendment and U.S. constitutional law, is a partner and member of the Executive Committee... Read More

Nadine Strossen

Fmr President, ACLU & Professor, New York Law School

Nadine Strossen, professor of law at New York Law School, has written, lectured, and practiced extensively in the areas of constitutional law, civil... Read More

Against the motion

Burt Neuborne

Professor, NYU Law & Founding Legal Director, Brennan Center for Justice

Burt Neuborne is one of the nation’s foremost civil liberties lawyers, teachers, and scholars. He is the Inez Milholland Professor of Civil Liberties... Read More

Zephyr Teachout

Assoc. Professor, Fordham Law & Fmr. Nat’l Dir., Sunlight Foundation

Zephyr Teachout is an associate law professor at Fordham Law School. She writes about political law, with a focus on corruption: her book Corruption... Read More

Where Do You Stand?

For The Motion
  • Political spending is protected under the First Amendment. Of course money is not speech, but it enables free speech and facilitates expression.
  • Organizations corporations, unions, media outlets, and other voluntary organizations have the same First Amendment rights as individuals.
  • Limits on spending would mean less political speech in the public square.
  • Many campaign finance laws serve to protect incumbents.
Against The Motion
  • Corporations and labor unions are artificial entities and should not be viewed as First Amendment speakers.
  • Without spending limits, the wealthiest among us have disproportionate political power.
  • Super PACs and the loopholes that allow for anonymous contributions have given rise to shadow campaigns, groups that are essentially extensions of a candidates campaign.
  • To argue that independent spending does not lead to, or create the appearance of corruption, relies on a narrow definition of corruption.

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The Research

The Research

First Amendment

Legal Information Institute
December 31, 1969

Text and overview.

e Pro-Money Court: How the Roberts Supreme Court Dismantled Campaign Finance Law

David Earley and Avram Billig
April 2, 2014

The Supreme Court's McCutcheon v. FEC decision further increases the influence of big money in elections. But McCutcheon is just the latest in a long string of cases weakening campaign finance rules.

Citizens United and the Restoration of the First Amendment

Hans A. von Spakovsky
February 27, 2010

The right to engage in free speech - particularly political speech - and the right to freely associate are two of this nation's most important founding principles.

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