At a time when campaign finance reform is widely viewed as synonymous with cleaning up Washington and promoting political equality, Bradley Smith, a nationally recognized expert on campaign finance reform, argues that all restriction on campaign giving should be eliminated. In Unfree Speech, he presents a bold, convincing argument for the repeal of laws that regulate political spending and contributions, contending that they violate the right to free speech and ultimately diminish citizens' power.
Smith demonstrates that these laws, which often force ordinary people making modest contributions of cash or labor to register with the Federal Election Commission or various state agencies, fail to accomplish their stated objectives. In fact, they have worked to entrench incumbents in office, deaden campaign discourse, burden grassroots political activity with needless regulation, and distance Americans from an increasingly professional, detached political class. Rather than attempting to plug "loopholes" in campaign finance law or instituting taxpayer-financed campaigns, Smith proposes a return to core First Amendment values of free speech and an unfettered right to engage in political activity.
Smith finds that campaign contributions have little corrupting effect on the legislature and shows that an unrestrained system of contributions and spending actually enhances equality. More money, not less, is needed in the political system, Smith concludes. Unfree Speech draws upon constitutional law and historical research to explain why campaign finance regulation is doomed and to illustrate the potentially drastic costs of efforts to make it succeed. Whatever one thinks about the impact of money on electoral politics, no one should take a final stand without reading Smith's controversial and important arguments.
Law professor and Federal Election Commission member Smith does not beat around the bush: "Almost everything the American people know, or think they know, about campaign finance reform is wrong," and he proceeds to say why in a work that is both enlightening and entertaining. The popular perception of campaign financing is that of a corrupt system in which a few wealthy contributors have undue influence upon the decisions of lawmakers. In fact, Smith goes to great lengths to show, the system works pretty well. Comparatively, he says, not that much is really spent on campaigns Americans spend more on both potato chips and Barbie dolls and there is little if any proof that the system does in fact corrupt or privilege one group's interests over those of others. But reformers must reform, and in doing so, Smith says, they have made matters worse. Reform has tended to favor incumbents and wealthy candidates, to discourage grassroots organizing, to turn campaign discussion into a mush of platitudes. And with every reform failure the reformers must add another reform, until campaign finance regulation becomes a "mosh pit" of confusion and cross-purposes. This might all be funny were it not, Smith contends, that campaign finance reform is simply unconstitutional he argues that it threatens the freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment. To say the least, there are many who will disagree with Smith's findings and conclusions. But this is a marvelous contrarian view: moderate in tone, elegant in language, clever in argument.