Senator Roberts: The First Amendment Doesn't Allow us to Silence Opposition
We Should Get Rid of Limits on Political Speech
WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, today said McCain-Feingold was a failed attempt to regulate free speech and further attempts to restrict political speech infringe upon the First Amendment.
Roberts made these remarks at a Senate Rules Committee hearing entitled “Dollars and Sense: How Undisclosed Money and Post-McCutcheon Campaign Finance Will Affect the 2014 Election and Beyond.”
The following is Senator Roberts’ opening statement as prepared for delivery:
“I am pleased to be here today on this important subject,” Roberts said.
“I brought my own chart.
“It bears the text of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
“That is what we are talking about today: the rights of citizens to express themselves; to make their views known on the issues that affect their daily lives and pocketbooks.
“The First Amendment protects those rights, and it prevents the government from restricting them.
“The exercise of those rights does not threaten our democracy.
“It is the attempt to restrict these rights that we must fear.
“We are living today with the consequences of the failed attempt to restrict them.
“This failure was not hard to foresee.
“It is not the fault of the courts or the Federal Election Commission.
“It is the direct consequence of the poor decision Congress made when it passed the McCain-Feingold bill.
“I opposed that bill.
“I, and others who voted against it, did so because we knew it would restrict people’s rights to participate in the political process.
“It would not get money out of the system, but would simply divert it to other avenues.
“Supporters of the bill denied it.
“They assured us it would not happen; that our system would be better.
“It should be clear now who was right and who was wrong.
“But rather than admit they were wrong, the proponents of speech regulation have just proposed new regulations.
“Because the courts have properly found much of their last effort to be unconstitutional, they have proposed new regulatory schemes under the guise of ‘disclosure.’
“No longer able to simply prohibit speech they do not like, they seek to prevent it by imposing onerous disclosure requirements on those who wish to speak.
“Respectfully, Mr. Chairman, as we consider suggestions for ways to improve the system, the last people we should be asking for advice at this hearing are those who helped write the law that created the problem in the first place.
“Let’s stop this fool’s errand of speech regulation.
“Let’s stop trying to prevent people from criticizing us.
“Let’s stop demonizing citizens who exercise their First Amendment rights.
“Let’s stop pretending more speech somehow threatens our democracy.
“We have nothing to fear from a free marketplace of ideas.
“We do, however, need to fear a government empowered to investigate its own citizens for exercising their rights. The revelations of IRS targeting of conservative groups have shown this to be a real danger.
“We hear a lot about ‘corruption’ when this issue is debated.
“I think for many people, the definition of corruption is the promotion of ideas with which they disagree.
“It is amazing how for years George Soros has been spending millions of dollars to promote liberal and progressive causes. None of my friends on the other side of the aisle seemed to be concerned about it.
“Now that the Koch family is spending money to promote free markets and private enterprise, we are supposed to believe that our democracy is at risk?
“That is absurd.
“Corporate spending is supposed to be a concern but corporations have long exercised unfettered rights to express themselves – provided they were media corporations.
“I am pleased to say that the Citizens United case changed that.
“The Supreme Court recognized the First Amendment does not allow this Congress to choose who gets to speak and properly ended this nonsensical distinction, with the only consequence being that now more voices are heard.
“I know there are some in this body who do not want those voices to be heard.
“They are doing everything they can to silence them.
“Our Majority Leader, unfortunately, who has a fixation with the Koch family that can only be described as bizarre, takes to the floor on an almost daily basis to attack them.
“Because he fears they pose a threat to his hold on power.
“He wants them to stop talking.
“Well, that is why the First Amendment begins, ‘Congress shall make no law…’
“The First Amendment doesn’t allow us to silence those who oppose us. That applies to corporations, labor unions, Mr. Soros and the Koch family….it applies to everyone.
“Let’s stop trying to do so, Mr. Chairman.
“Let’s stop trying to impose regulations designed to deter and harass our opponents.
“Instead, let’s just admit the mistake we made when we tried to regulate political speech.
“Let’s remove the restrictions.
“Let’s allow those who want to contribute and engage in our political system to give money where they want as long as they follow the law.
“Everyone in this country has the right to express themselves, Mr. Chairman – even people who don’t manage to get themselves invited to appear on television shows or to testify at Senate hearings.
“People – all people – individually and as groups, have every right to make their views known.
“Instead of trying to stop them, let’s reinvigorate our system.
“New restrictions and regulations are not going to improve the system.
“Getting rid of those we already have imposed will.
“That is the course we should take, Mr. Chairman.
“Let’s do it.
“Thank you for the time.”
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