Sheldon Whitehouse Wants to Roll Back the First Amendment
Rhode Island junior Senator Sheldon Whitehouse thinks the First Amendment of the United States Constitution goes too far. He has used his Senate seat, from the state that traces its lineage to early freedom-of-speech advocate Roger Williams, to introduce a Constitutional Amendment that would carve out a First Amendment exception allowing the government to restrict campaign expenditures by individuals. The part of the amendment that would apply to the Federal government reads…
SECTION 1. Congress shall have power to regulate the raising and spending of money and in kind equivalents with respect to Federal elections, including through setting limits on —A nearly identical second section of the amendment to the First Amendment (to borrow a phrase oft-used during past debates over anti-flag burning amendments) would grant the same speech-limiting powers to the states. Under the Whitehouse regime, the government would be allowed to tell political candidates that they were over the limit on the number of communications they were allowed in an election cycle, i.e. that they had run too many ads, or sent out too many mailings in an attempt to communicate with voters.
(1) the amount of contributions to candidates for nomination for election to, or for election to, Federal office; and
(2) the amount of expenditures that may be made by, in support of, or in opposition to such candidates.
According to Senator Whitehouse’s website, his speech restriction amendment is a response to the US Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” ruling, where the Court held that the First Amendment protected the right of corporations to buy advertising (or to produce books or movies or any other form of media) that supported or opposed the election of political candidates.
How we get from the belief that “corporations” have “too much” political speech, to giving the government sweeping new powers to restrict the peaceful political expression of individuals is far from clear — though it is clear that Senator Whitehouse thinks that there’s too much political speech out there right now, and that something needs to be done to limit it.