Is Money Equivalent to Free Speech?

I am representing a Facebook debate on the Citizens United Supreme Court case (2010) which ruled that money is equivalent to freedom of speech, allowing any person or entity to donate as much money as they want toward political campaigns. The quote is the statement of my fellow debater, and the response below is mine.

If money should be kept out of elections, because it “distorts democracy” shouldn’t speech be kept out of election as well? The volume of one’s voice in the public sphere can distort public understanding and participation in elections, just like money… it seems rather arbitrary/naïve to think critically of one and not the other. and aren’t there other factors that distort democracy? education? background? other currencies of social interaction? now, social media power. The ability to protest/commit civil disobedience/create public outcry is also disproportionately allocated, right? single parents can’t afford necessarily to spend all day protesting in favor of Bernie sanders, but 20 something college students can? many social currencies, including money, are disproportionately allocated

I don’t think this objection is valid here. Your argument is that just like free donation rights create inequality (rich vs. poor), so does free speech (good vs. bad orators, or smart vs. dumb or something like that), and if we oppose some kind of inequality we need to oppose all kinds of inequality to be consistent with our values. But the difference is that under the latter condition, democracy is difficult to realize, while it is impossible under the latter. Of course, we can now revert to the question whether democracy is desirable or feasible, but I don’t want to venture that far, and presume that most people agree at least that it is desirable.

Our risk with freedom of speech is that some people will speak out because they are educated, have the leisure and are good speakers or writers, while others will not, but we can still maintain democratic principles, because we have enough of a critical mass to make sure that elected representatives are held accountable. Let us imagine the alternative system, where freedom of speech is restricted. Have we served the interests of equality and democracy better? I doubt it, because the rulers will exploit the situation and impose authoritarian policies that no sane person on the street will want to endorse. In the case of freedom of donation, we know that it will be inimical to democracy, because most democracies have capitalist economies where the rewards are stacked in favor of the owning class, and they will have the greatest amount of political influence. Here we can not have these educated, leisurely and oratory skills of a few wise people intervene and hold their leaders accountable, because now it is the moneyed interests who speak while everyone else is silent.

I conclude by admitting a weakness in my argument: people who don’t believe in democracy will dismiss my argument, and if they actually believe in oligarchy, then they should come out and say that that is what they believe in and not disguise their political beliefs behind a cloak of “freedom of speech=freedom of donation”.

I think your response does not get at my point, at all. My argument was not that there was a disparity in speech equality like there is a lack of economic equality (though that’s true). My argument was just as those with more money can spread a message farther, so can those with a louder voice. My argument is that there isn’t a free market place of ideas with traditional speech, as some voices so largely over power the smaller ones that we don’t even get a critical mass. At that point, distinguishing between spreading a particular political message through investing a lot of money or socially investing in one very powerful speaker seems silly. Especially since those actions are rarely so separate. If I can spend money on a particular message or convince Fox News to disseminate it, is there a really a difference in those two processes. In the first, I needed to find someone to take my money, in the second, I needed to sway one person/organization. Neither process rings particularly democratic to me

The question that your point raises is whether or not we should permit freedom of speech as well as freedom of donation, and treat them as having the same principle of the strong dominating over the weak, which we apparently agree is undemocratic and undesirable. Your argument seems to be that if freedom of donation is bad, then freedom of speech is bad too, and we should prohibit both or allow both, but I don’t see why any of these two choices are desirable. Under freedom of donation, democracy is defeated, period. Under freedom of speech, democracy is not perfectly attainable, but it is more attainable than if there were no freedom of speech. So yes to speech, no to donation.

I think you misrepresent how donations are used. Donations to campaigns are used to further speech, gain voters, etc… they’re not “donating to the government” So at that point, freedom of donation allows for the same person to donate money, to maximize speech…giving money to campaigns ultimately is used as speech, sending a message, etc. so at that point money and speech might become the same thing

Let us go back to the premise of democracy. We can only equate money and speech and democracy if the distribution of wealth and income is roughly the same, but it is not. If only freedom of speech is in effect, then I would stand next to the Koch brothers and do a shouting match with them, and hopefully the sane opinion will prevail. However, if you add freedom of donation to that, then I can scream like a monster, and the Koch brothers and their friends will win regardless. Therefore, to argue that donation is an extension of speech is extremely undermining to democratic principles, and the only honest argument that I think people can make in this regard (i.e. money=speech) is if they actually believe in oligarchy, which I and many other non-billionaires in this country do not believe in.

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