Campaign Finance

Chuck Schumer's "Limits to First Amendment" Garbage a Throwback to George W. Bush Circa 1999


funding dissent somehow bad for democracy

Chuck Schumer outdid himself on the nonsense front on the Senate floor this week, when he said:

I believe there ought to be limits because the First Amendment is not absolute. No amendment is absolute. You can't scream 'fire' falsely in a crowded theater. We have libel laws. We have anti-pornography laws. All of those are limits on the First Amendment. Well, what could be more important than the wellspring of our democracy? And certain limits on First Amendment rights that if left unfettered, destroy the equality — any semblance of equality in our democracy — of course would be allowed by the Constitution. And the new theorists on the Supreme Court who don't believe that, I am not sure where their motivation comes from, but they are just so wrong. They are just so wrong.

The comments are just the latest in the whipped up hysteria over Citizens United, which relaxes restrictions on political speech during election seasons. As Nick Gillespie noted, the Citizens United decision has helped several candidates mount credible challenges to long-time incumbents. Opponents of Citizens United actually point to that fact as problematic. The incumbency rate in Congress is usually in the mid-to-high 90s. Between 2000 and 2008 the incumbency rate was between 94 and 98 percent. In 2010, the first post-Citizens United federal election, the incumbency rate slipped to 85 percent, the lowest in more than 40 years. While partisans who don't like the particular flavor of the challengers who won in 2010 might complain of a systemic problem, they are conflating their own political desires with the health of the political system.

High incumbency rates are signifiers of a broken political process. And it's not corporate money or campaign donations that help keep incumbency rates high. Through earmarks and other legislative means, members of Congress can direct federal funds to their districts. The longer they're in office, the better they get at bringing funds to their district, the more likely constituents are to vote to re-elect their representative whether they agree with his politics or not, simply because the legislator brings home the bacon. Taxpayer money in politics seems a lot more corrosive than corporate money. Politicians have effectively unlimited access to use taxpayer money in order to enrich themselves and ingratiate themselves with their constituents. All corporate money and campaign donations can do is persuade you through speech to vote for someone or other; taxpayer money can be used to incentivize voters to vote a certain way.

Not only are Chuck Schumer's deeply flawed ideas blatantly self-serving, they're the same fragile "woe is me" attitude politicians often take when people say things they disagree with. Let's take a step into the way back machine, courtesy of this 1999 Washington Post article:

When asked at a news conference in May what he thought… [about a website mocking him for his alleged past cocaine use and otherwise making fun at his expense], [George W.] Bush let loose, saying it was produced by a "garbage man" and suggesting that "there ought to be limits to freedom"–a line Bush's online critics have vowed to never let the world forget.

In case you missed it, liberals forgot. All it took was some hope and change. Bush's lawyers were keen to point out they weren't trying to silence the creator of the website ( for those who remember the Internet heyday of the late 90s). It wasn't even a First Amendment issue in their minds:

Bush attorney Benjamin L. Ginsberg, asked to discuss the First Amendment implications of the governor's FEC complaint, raised his voice in irritation: "How is it a First Amendment issue? It is NOT a First Amendment issue."

Ginsberg said the goal was not to shut Exley down. Because Exley's site at one point urged voters to "Just say no to a former cocaine user for president," he clearly was advocating Bush's defeat and must be regulated as a political campaign committee, Ginsberg said. "The idea behind this is, if he's going to act like a political committee, he should have to reveal his funding," he said.

Or: he should have to reveal his funding because he is saying mean things about the powerful man trying to be president. Just like Chuck Schumer and every other politician targeted by people tired of their policies, the Bush team's first instinct was to restrict the free speech rights of their opponents, using campaign finance laws written by politicians to protect politicians. Of course, no politician would ever suggest restricting their own free speech, even though they often spew some of the most ridiculous and destructive garbage there is out there, willfully obfuscating issues and conflating legal concepts. Look no further than the Schumer quote at the top for proof.

More Reason on campaign finance.

I previously tackled the issue of money in politics here and here.

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  1. If there are any limits, then there can be no limits on the limits.


  2. I wonder if Chuckie and Charlie Rangel ever get into arguments over which one of them is the biggest waste of biomass to come out of New York.

    1. You’re forgetting Bloomberg. Don’t forget Bloomie or he’ll get into an even greater regulatory zeal to prove his progressive street cred.

      1. Ugh. Where’s that Cloverfield monster when you really need him?

        1. Hey if it wasn’t for the stupid Avengers we wouldn’t have to deal with this crap anymore.

      2. Yeah, but Bloomie is still in NY. Rangel and Chuckie have spread their manboobs and bile beyond the borders.

  3. And it’s not corporate money or campaign donations that help keep incumbency rates high.

    It’s because of the bang-up job done by our current cracker jack political leaders!

  4. the Peoples Liberation Army fully supports citizens united and will contribute anonoymous free speech dollars to comrade-citizen superpacs

    1. Red scare! Red scare! Everybody hide!

    2. They can donate to Obama’s campaign anonymously, too, through his unsecured credit card site.

  5. they often spew some of the most ridiculous and destructive garbage there is out there, willfully obfuscating issues and conflating legal concepts

    Yes but they’re the enlightened intellectual elite so, you know, it’s for your own good.

    1. Oh, and I forgot, we will also burn your EBT cards white laughing maniacally.

      1. That reply was intended for o3…

  6. the Peoples Liberation Army

    We will soon ride into your village, on horses painted blood red and wearing horned helmets, to burn, pillage, and plunder, to see your village reduced to ashes, and to hear the lamentation of your wimins folk.

    1. Are they hiring? And do you have to bring your own horse?

      1. We provide the evil horses, but you need to bring your own horned helmet. And don’t forget your monocle, it is required.

        The pay is as many liberal tears as you can collect.

      2. Unless you have a pretty hefty amount experience, you usually have to sign up as a intern pillager first. Sure you get to throw the occasional first torch, but mostly it’s sword sharpening and coffee fetching.

      3. Winner!

    2. I wouldn’t be lamenting if such a thing happened in my neighborhood.

    3. So we’re gonna work up a number 6 on ’em?

  7. The liberals that keep giving members of their party a pass need to try a new conceptualizing technique. Every time Obama says something, they need to close their eyes, concentrate, and picture George W. Bush’s big dumb ape face saying or doing the exact same thing, and honestly consider how they would have reacted to him doing that 6 years ago.

    1. that technique seems frequent here. Every time someone says something stupid, the way-back machine always comes out with “but look at what the other side did”.

      Schumer’s douchebaggery can stand on its own, as could Bush’s in its time. Conflating the two just sounds like a junior high lunchroom.

  8. Has there ever been a case of somebody shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre? Why is this justification for restricting the first amendment always trotted out?

    Also, if somebody did shout “fire” in a crowded theatre, and there was otherwise no evidence of fire, would it really cause a panic?

    1. Right, why can’t we hold them accountable for the results of their action rather than the act of speech itself? Can’t the theater sue them for damages? Or if there is a panic and someone gets trampled, cant the person be held accountable for their injuries?

      1. Careful, because if we go down that road, we won’t be able to preemptively defend ourselves from nuke-wielding maniacs like Saddam anymore. You see, it’s a slippery slope: one day, we’re letting everybody yell “Fire!” in the theater, and the next, we’ve all been vaporized.

      2. Right, why can’t we hold them accountable for the results of their action rather than the act of speech itself? Can’t the theater sue them for damages? Or if there is a panic and someone gets trampled, cant the person be held accountable for their injuries?

        What the hell are you, some kind of property rights loving, Rothbard reading, freak?

        That is exactly how it should be handled. “Shall make no law” seems fairly straightforward to me, but then I am not a politician.

        1. I tried to respond in a similar vein, but “wasn’t logged in” or some such nonsense.

          But to make a distinction between free speech and yelling Fire! or pornographic content is nitpicking at best and willful tyranny at worst.

    2. The world is full of sandy vaginas and all it takes is one person freaking out to ruin it for everyone.

    3. Anecdotally, every time the fire alarm goes off in our office building (including an panicked-sounding voice saying “A fire has been reported in the building!”), most people look at each other, sigh, slowly gather their purses, shoes and other personal items, bitch about how hot or cold it is outside, and shamble toward the stairs. Somehow I think that may also be the case in a theater.

      1. Somehow I think that may also be the case in a theater.

        At first, yes. But as time passes, and people in the back push forward and people in the front form a logjam it can be devastating.

        Consider the Station Fire.

        It’s a tragedy when people get stampeded trying to escape certain death. It’s an even bigger tragedy when they are stampeded trying to escape no threat at all.

    4. Has there ever been a case of somebody shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre?

      One guy did.

      1. I miss Hitch already. His takedown of Holmes is priceless.

    5. Aside from that, those who use the “shout fire in a crowded theater” often misuse the analogy: maybe I live in a really good neighborhood, but I’m not aware of any theater that gags its patrons upon entry, or slices out their voice box.

    6. Not a theater, but someone shouted fire during a Christmas party and 73 people died.

    7. Some idiot teenager yelled FIRE! while getting off a crowded metro train after me. There was no more pushing than usual. Lots of dirty looks for that kid from all the folks on the platform. I regained some faith in society.

    8. “Has there ever been a case of somebody shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre? ”

      Oui, Shoshanna.

      1. One of the best movies of the last 10 years.

    9. “Why is this justification…always trotted out.”

      Just connecting it to the classic example, I think:…..ed_theater

    10. Schumer is using this quote correctly. In its historical context, it was used by a progressive douchenozzle to censor perfectly legal speech by drawing a bullshit analogy*, and that’s how Schumer is using it here.

      *Specifically, it was Justice Sterilize-the-Untermensch Holmes, claiming that passing out pamphlets criticizing the draft during WWI was a threat to national security, and thus not protected speech.

  9. I once shouted ‘theater’ in a crowded fire.

  10. To quote Mitch:

    If you’re flammable and have legs, you’re never blocking a fire exit.

  11. Opponents of Citizens United actually point to that fact as problematic.

    In the land of the stupid, Schumer is the God-Emperor.

  12. Oh no he didn’t. Not the ‘fire’ in a crowded theater argument! It’s the argument libruls love to use when trying to limit my speech.

    Oh, and yes, Reasoners… there is a drinking game for that.…..nt_2081472


  13. Chuck Schumer is the first one on the firing squad when libertopia happens.

    1. but it’s going to take either silver or wooden bullets. Schumer is a lot of things, but human seems far down on the list.

    2. That kind of violence is messy and counterproductive.

      I’d prefer to round up anyone in the US who has spent more than ten years in elected office and deposit them on a remote island that has everything they need to survive.

      We can put cameras all over the island to watch them establish a pecking order and form committees and subcommittees and argue endlessly about who is going to make decisions, who is going to implement them, and who gets stuck doing the actual work.

      We’ll call it Parasite Island, it’ll be the first hit reality show of the new order. Assuming we get enough good footage before they all die of starvation two weeks in.

      1. You’re on to something here. I think your idea could be merged with my “hold an election, then arrest anyone who shows up to run for office” idea.

        Kind of an Excape from New York kind of thing where they’re all forced to live on an island. Except you’d be filling the place with more and more people like them.

      2. I vote for cryogenically freezing them, and then deporting them to enemy nation states when they pop up.

      3. “Well, in those days Mars was a dreary, uninhabitable wasteland, much like Utah. But unlike Utah, Mars was eventually made liveable when the university was founded in 2636.”

      4. Didn’t we just pilot that with the Occupados?

        1. The difference is that we don’t let them go home to mooch off their parents come winter.

  14. They are just so wrong.

    Just the sort of witty, poignant, and compelling argument I’ve come to expect from Chuck Schumer.

  15. Of course the FA is absolute. It admits of no exceptions and it was purposely designed that way contrary to the absurd assertions of folks like Senator Schumer and Robert Bork.

    If the framers had not intended to make the protections of the FA absolute, then they should have so said.

    There should be no libel laws as A does not own the thoughts of B.

    1. As politically disgusting as Kennedy’s attack was, really beyond the pale compared to anything that went before in confirmation participant reactions, some days you got to thank him for sinking Bork. He would have been a terrible influence on Conservative jurisprudence, and no friend to liberty.

    2. Libel is a species of fraud. Are you opposed to fraud as well, since it is generally perpetrated entirely via (false and misleading) communication?

      1. Probably the best way to look at it (as a functional but libertarian legal theory) is that there is an individual right (which is explicitly protected by the 14th and deliberately but indirectly protected by the 1st) which is broad but not absolute. The 1st goes beyond that right and lays an absolute restriction on the federal government. However, the states are only bound to respect the less absolute individual right, allowing for libel, fraud, etc. at the state level.

  16. This just goes to show that the Citizens United was wrong, not because it opened up the political process, but because it failed to incorporate Clarence Thomas’s contention that disclosure requirements of private groups are still an affront to the First Amendment.

  17. At the center of this is a movie that was actually censored, not allowed to be shown during the primary season. I recall a left that was scornful of censorship. Leftist who described the court related censorship cases against Ulysses and The Naked Lunch as products of backwards reactionaries (never mind that their brothers censoring in the USSR using the same excuse ChuckFuckStain did of needing to protect the people) of more quaint times. Remember those people? It was the last strain of real liberalism left in many of them. Now, they are so few in number they could meet in a tiny two booth cafe.

    1. But you shouldn’t censor stuff THEY like!

      1. You’ll only take that bullwhip from my cold, dead ass!

    2. Censorship of Ulysses and Naked Lunch was based on sex, possibly the only realm of human behavior the Left believes should not be regulated to the hilt. Speech, particularly political speech, is fair game according to them.

      But, as Lenny Bruce said, if you can’t say “fuck,” you can’t say “fuck the government.”

      1. The Constitution could use an extra phrase after, ‘high crimes and misdemeanors,’ followed by ‘failure to uphold this document.’ It sets for elected officials an oath of office that is a joke in practice given Schumer is as protected member of the Senatorial class structure as any who has ever lived, and few have shown more contempt for it in their careers than he.

        1. Que Lysander Spoon, the extra phrase would just underscore the impotence of the document in practice, right?

  18. And wasn’t the case about which Holmes made his “fire in a crowded theater” comment, wasnt’ that case about people handing out anti-war literature to draft age men, urging them to think about the implications of war and the draft ? In other words, the great Holmes’ aphorism about causing panic didn’t fit the case before him, of people urging quiet contemplation.

    1. You can bet Holmes would’ve deferred to the considered judgement of Congress in passing the Alien and Sedition Acts.

  19. I am not sure where their motivation comes from, but they are just so wrong. They are just so wrong.

    He attended public schools in Brooklyn, scoring 1600 on the SAT, and graduated as the valedictorian from James Madison High School in 1967. …
    He attended Harvard College … After completing his undergraduate degree, he continued to Harvard Law School, earning his Juris Doctor with honors in 1974.

    Chuckie is the kind of guy who can’t stand when people who aren’t as certifiably “smart” as him won’t accept his opinions as unquestionable fact. He gets even more enraged when those people actually have some ability to effect political policy.

    1. He attended public schools in Brooklyn, scoring 1600 on the SAT, and graduated as the valedictorian from James Madison High School in 1967. ..

      If you have no imagination to distract you, or passion in life to pursue, those are easy goals to obtain.

      1. I find his most amazing achievement to be his NRA marksmanship award.

        1. Even though I consider them a gun control regulatory advocacy group because many of the gun control laws that are in practice such as registration and ID are their creation, that is still a mind blower.

  20. Since he obviously regards unfettered 1A rights as destructive to equality in the marketplace of ideas, I wonder what Chuckles would think of a campaign finance law that pooled all money raised by all the candidates in a race, and then gave them each an equal share?

    1. Once he figured out how to be the pig that is more equal than others under that scheme he would be front and center of the cameras advocating it.

  21. I believe that the First Amendment is absolute and that interpreting it loosely is dangerous to our freedom of speech. Check this article out and join the discussion if you are interested in the freedom of religion aspect of the First Amendment. http://conservativesolutions.c…..amendment/

  22. I live in New York. Schumer is the worst. All this guy wants to do is pass one new law after another. He’s the worst kind of politician, the kind that wages war on every little thing by creating new laws and a larger bureaucracy. He is a complete schmuck. Almost every couple of weeks he’s opening up his pie hole and talking about getting tough on this or that and closing up loopholes in existing laws. He’s the kind of guy that should have his own little planet to live on, where the population consists of just him, and he can have his sanitary, little world.

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