BY HUGO TORRES
According to Alan Morrison, co-counsel to Senators John McCain and Russ Feingold, campaign finance reform is like Swiss cheese: full of holes, but it still works. The question, according to Morrison, is “when the Supreme Court is done with it, will there be more holes than cheese?”
On Monday, September 15, the Federalist Society of Harvard Law School sponsored a debate titled “Campaign Finance Reform and the Supreme Court” with two distinguished speakers. Bradley Smith, Vice-Chairman of the Federal Election Commission, took the position that campaign finance reform was unnecessary. Alan Morrison, a co-founder with Ralph Nader of the watchdog group Public Citizen, argued that campaign finance reform is a necessity and that the Supreme Court should be cautious about rolling back its provisions and making it into the aforementioned swiss cheese with more holes than cheese.
The majority of the arguments centered on whether campaign finance reform would restrict free speech. Chairman Smith argued that such reforms would go against the First Amendment and that in any case the current system is not a broken one. “Most candidates are not swayed by contributions,” said Smith, adding that “most of these people [politicians] have strong views – that’s why they run for office.” According to Smith, campaign contributions have little effect on the voting decisions of politicians. He pointed to the lack of substantial differences in the governing of states with heavily regulated campaign financing versus those with a laissez faire attitude.
Morrison clarified that he agreed with Smith to a certain extent. He does not believe free speech needs to be restricted, only that it needed to be decided whether free speech rights extend beyond individuals. “Can they do it with corporate money?” asked Morrison, arguing that allowing campaign contributions by corporations ignored the desires and free speech rights of shareholders and workers.
Chairman Smith, as a member of the FEC, made it very clear that while he supported the law as a member of the FEC, he opposed it as a private citizen. Chairman Smith has written a book about campaign finance reform, “Unfree Speech: The Folly of Campaign Finance Reform,” in which he argues that campaign financing is not as corrupt as it is perceived to be and that putting more limits on it would violate the First Amendment.
Despite their disagreements, Smith and Morrison found much common ground. Both agreed that the First Amendment offered broad and important protections, both have experience teaching law and both are graduates of HLS.