A new Supreme Court opinion striking down major portions of Vermont's campaign finance reform laws bodes well for free speech. At issue were restrictions on how much money can be spent on political speech and contributed to candidates.
The Supreme Court made short work of Vermont's limit on how much candidates can spend on political speech. The court said placing limits on how much you can spend is like "being free to drive an automobile as far and as often as one desires on a single tank of gasoline." When put to the First Amendment test, spending limits just don't add up.
The Supreme Court also struck down the contribution limits Vermont imposed on individuals, organizations, and political parties. These limits were the lowest in the nation. Low contribution limits make it more difficult for challengers to unseat incumbents and restrict participation in political campaigns. If the end effect of campaign finance regulation is to promote competition and increase civic participation, Vermont's program was a colossal failure.
The Court's message is simple: the freedom to spend money on political issues and candidates is at the very heart of the First Amendment and is therefore protected. The opinion referenced Arizona's low contribution limits; one can only hope this precedent will be used to challenge them as well.
Benjamin Barr is a constitutional policy analyst with the Goldwater Institute Center for Constitutional Studies.