Lobbying, spending limits and the power of free speech in government
As the British government mulls over its new law that would limit the amount of money charities can spend during campaigns, the role of money and free speech in government is reexamined.
Money politics have had a controversial past. A number of different words can be used to describe the how money influences campaign contributions. President Barack Obama set records with regard to the amount of personal donations that were made through his website during his first election, while other actions, like bribing a politician are punishable offenses that have led to the demise of many a politician.
While the difference between these two may seem like black and white, when it comes to the donations of groups like lobbies and other organizations, the many shades of grey begin to appear. This is because of a debate that has come to take a global stage as of late – whether or not money should be considered free speech.
New UK "gag law"
There has been a lot of criticism in the United Kingdom as of late surrounding what is being unfavorably referred to as a "gag law" because of the role it would play in limiting the amount of money that charities can spend during campaign years. The Guardian explains that the intention of the law is to prevent third parties from influencing the outcomes of election, even when their actions are not directly intended to do so.
Charities would therefore be deterred from expressing their opinion on certain matters, especially if they were of public or political concern. This would put charities that seek to address certain issues like poverty or foreign policy under the radar of violation of this law. While the law seeks to limit lobbying, and charities as a side effect, opposite legislation has become quite common in the U.S.
In 2010, the United States Supreme Court ruled that these same kinds of third parties were allowed to create advertisements that campaigned against a certain candidate, and in the process, spend as much money as they would like, The New York Times explains.
The two seemingly opposite policies on lobbying in government bring up a provocative question regarding the role that money and speech should play in politics. On the one hand, many feel that people should be able to spend as much as they would like in order to voice their opinion on a certain issue, while others could argue that in doing so, those with limited funds have a smaller voice than wealthier people. This debate begs the question, what role should money play in free speech and politics?