Is Money Speech?

Release Date
September 20, 2012


Democracy and Voting Government Rights

The first amendment to the U.S. Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.” Does that freedom extend to the way people spend their money? Is money a form of speech? Professor Bradley Smith shows how money is needed to communicate ideas and to establish organizations. For example, what if citizens are allowed to have newspapers or radio stations but the government says they cannot spend any money, or can spend only a limited amount of money, to run them? Such a restriction would seem to limit citizens’ freedom of the press.
It would be difficult to be elected in a political campaign without spending any money to reach out to voters. If the government controls the money spent in political campaigns, it also controls the speech. So is spending money on a campaign speech? What do you think? Please leave your answers in the comments.

Is spending money protected by the first amendment? Most people think, “Hey, money’s money; it’s not speech. It’s not religion.” But imagine if the government said, you can have any religion you want. You can practice any religion you want; you just can’t spend any money to build churches or buy hymnals or engage in church missionary or charitable work. Imagine if the government said, “Oh you’re free to operate a newspaper or a radio station; you just can’t spend any money to do it.” Or maybe, “You can’t spend more than, say, $25,000 a year to do it.” Imagine if the government said you’re free to speak, but you can’t buy a megaphone so that people can hear your voice a little more clearly. Is spending money on a campaign speech? You know it’s pretty hard to run a political campaign or communicate your views to any number of people without spending money. If the government controls the money, it controls the speech. So should spending money for the purposes of political speech be protected by the first amendment? You tell me.