Viewpoint: When other people's free speech matters more

One of the big news articles right now is the Supreme Court’s ruling to strike down limits on how much individual donors can contribute to political campaigns. And many people are really angry about it.

The discussion of campaign and political spending is a heated one here in the United States. But it only seems to pop up every few years in other words, right around election time. In that time in between, when it doesn’t come up in daily life for the average citizen, lots of stuff happens, and by the time we notice, it’s too late to stop it.

This particular ruling has drudged the topic back into the spotlight. The United States likes to think of itself as a country of equal opportunity. A little kid from a poverty-stricken neighborhood in Chicago should have just as much chance at being a United States president as a kid sent to the elite boarding schools.

Therefore, many citizens see this ruling as a heavy weight to tip the scale in the favor of the wealthy, who will then use their money to tip the scale in favor of the best-connected candidates, upsetting the potential for equality. On the other hand, others argue that the ruling allows donors to feel more free to support more political candidates and campaigns. Still others counter that the ruling might not even affect these donors’ donation habits, as people will spend money on what they want.

The primary reason behind the ruling for the majority justices was simple (in their opinion): Limiting how people choose to spend their money on political campaigns was a violation of First Amendment rights. And while, upon further analysis, the repercussions of this decision are quite a deal more complex, there is actually a simple reason the justices think this way.

In fact, this reasoning should sound familiar if you’ve been keeping track of past Supreme Court rulings. In the 2010 Supreme Court case commonly referred to as Citizens United, the ruling declared that “political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment.” Of course, that was in reference to corporations and unions, but the idea behind it is still the same.

Here at Weber State, we don’t view political spending the same way the national government does. Election candidates have a set spending limit. Donations factor into that spending limit. So, while donors to candidates don’t have a limit on how much they can donate, a candidate can’t accept more donations than their current spending limit allows.

This policy, and others we have in place, gives each candidate as fair a chance as the next. It also forces candidates to show how well they can manage a budget and follow university rules and bylaws. It’s not about limiting free speech rights. It’s about making sure everyone has the same access, that their voices have the same weight as the person down the street.

Many reform options have been proposed to try to fix what many see as an egregious imbalance in our political system. Many have been implemented in smaller scales at the state levels, while some have found their ways into proposals on the congressional floors. However, we have to remember that Congress also stands to benefit from unlimited political spending and donations. With money becoming more and more the determining factor in winning elections, the power of the government will likely stay in the pockets of the very rich.

It’s a frustrating situation, to be sure. Many of us will never have the ability to write off several dozen checks for thousands of dollars every election period. We can protest and rally, but our opinions have a high chance of being drowned out by the corporate powers influencing the media to paint opposition in colors of crazy and erratic, as happened with the Occupy Movement.

In which case, really our only means to fight back is through education. Participate in caucuses and drag other people with you. Don’t be afraid to jump into discussions. Most of all, educate yourself on what you’re voting on. Don’t rely on what you think you know about a candidate or issue your thoughts have likely been tainted by million-dollar ad campaigns.

It’s not nearly as easy a course as money is. But it is something. People can’t work together to fix something broken if they don’t know how or why it’s broken in the first place.