Editorial: Don’t mess with the First Amendment

Should we compromise constitutional guarantees of free speech to advance the agenda of limiting campaign donations? Luckily, the Founding Fathers set a high bar for such changes, because the First Amendment is under assault in the U.S. Senate.

Most recently, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the U.S. Senate will vote on a constitutional amendment to give Congress and the states the power to regulate campaign finance.

The measure was introduced last year by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., aimed at reversing the effects of U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Buckley v. Valeo and Citizens United, which overturned campaign finance regulations. The recent McCutcheon v. FEC decision added fuel to the fire.

Oregon’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley is one of 36 co-sponsors for the measure, which can become law only if it receives two-thirds votes in both the House and Senate, plus the approval of 38 states. It would allow Congress to impose regulations on campaign contributions for federal elections, and states to do the same for state elections. As Schumer said to the Senate Rules Committee, the proposal would protect such laws from “being eviscerated by a conservative Supreme Court,” which “is trying to take this country back to the days of the robber barons.”

Udall’s proposal includes supposed protections for freedom of the press, opening the door for dangerous legislative and judicial forays into deciding who qualifies for such protection and who doesn’t.

Lawmakers who might approve the change are also likely to benefit from it. Limits on campaign donations and spending would make it far more difficult for challengers to gain the name recognition and news exposure already enjoyed by incumbents.

While we share the anxiety about the impact of uneven campaign spending, history shows money will find a way around even the most well-intentioned legislative efforts. We believe disclosure, rather than limits, is the best remedy.

Don’t mess with the protections so wisely established by the Founders.