The first Article of the Bill of Rights in our Constitution prohibits Congress from denying the American people the freedom of speech and the freedom of association. Our Founders recognized that these rights were fundamental to a peaceful political process and to the future of our democracy. More than two centuries later, their wisdom has been proven correct time and time again.
However, we currently have a regulatory system of campaign finance laws that severely limits the ability of a national political party to fully communicate with and support that party’s candidates for federal, state, or local office.
Opposition to these artificial restrictions on a national political party’s basic freedoms of speech and association is at the core of my decision to file lawsuits in the District of Columbia and Louisiana challenging the constitutionality of campaign finance prohibitions on certain activities by national political party committees.
A national political party should have the freedom to support candidates at the federal, state, or local level with funds raised in accordance with the applicable and constitutional federal, state, or local law.
The effect of current campaign finance law is to limit a political party’s freedom of speech to only federal elections. This limitation is not only unfair, it is unconstitutional.
As chairman of the Republican National Committee, I was prohibited from raising campaign funds in accordance with Louisiana law to support Bobby Jindal’s campaign for governor. In 2009, there will be governors races in Virginia and New Jersey. The chairman of the RNC should be able to raise campaign funds for our Republican gubernatorial candidates in compliance with the applicable laws of each state. Participation in state and local elections should be based on the rules of law established by those state and local governments, not arbitrary restrictions made in Washington, DC.
Even where federal elections are concerned, existing restrictions on how a national political party may coordinate with federal candidates violates that political party’s First Amendment rights. It is only appropriate that a national political party should be able to communicate with and in support of all that party’s candidates for elected office. However, the current system limits a national political party’s freedom to do so.
These limits also prevent the national party committee from partnering with elected officials to speak out on specific, conservative issues such as the Fairness Doctrine, card-check legislation, or other issues that may come before our federal and state legislative bodies. It simply makes no sense that a national party committee and an elected official who share the same political philosophy would be handcuffed in their ability to share those political convictions with others.
Incredibly, that is exactly the effect of current law.
The goal of removing corruption from the campaign process is a laudable one. I firmly believe that any campaign finance regime must include complete transparency, and full and immediate disclosure of contributions to create accountability. I am proud that the RNC was the first major political party to ensure that all donors were available on-line for any individual to view.
Unfortunately, current campaign finance law does not promote disclosure so much as it limits fundamental First Amendment freedoms of speech and association. The practical effect of limiting these First Amendment freedoms of national political parties has been the emergence of shadow political organizations that are neither transparent to the public nor accountable for their actions. Further, these organizations are often mistaken to be authorized agents of national political parties, when in fact the national party has no control over the organization’s activities or message.
The Republican Party serves as the national voice for millions of Americans who share a philosophy rooted in the principles of lower taxes, less government, individual responsibility, and a strong national defense. The RNC promotes those principles by assisting candidates at all levels and by getting our message out to the American public.
The government has no role in severing our ability to promote or communicate our philosophy; for the government to do so is contrary to the very principles upon which it was founded.
Freedom of speech should include an individual’s right to contribute, as he or she sees fit, to any political party, political action committee, or coalition to support the causes for which it stands.
Freedom of association should include a national political party’s ability to support its candidates and share its political philosophy.
The Republican Party has and always will fight for the protection of these freedoms. It is a cause we are devoted to and a right worth defending.
Robert M. Duncan is chairman of the Republican National Committee.