Dina Galassini never set out in 2011 to be at the center of the clash between the right of free speech and our election laws. All she wanted to do was protest a Fountain hills, Az bond issue. She emailed 23 friends to band with her to make some homemade signs, join her in a couple of rallies and write some letters to the editor. She estimated it cost $25. Just the kind of thing the first amendment was written to protect. Not in Fountain Hills. Upon learning of her plans, the town clerk sent her a letter urging “cease any campaign related activities” until she had registered as a “political committee” under Arizona law. This started her two-year plus Odyssey through Arizona Election Law. Supported by the Institute for Justice, it culminated in September 30, 2013 with Federal Judge James A. Teilborg striking down Arizona’s campaign finance scheme. He formalized this decision this past December. While pleased with her victory, it got us to wondering how it even came this. After all, the First Amendment along with the rest of Bill of Rights were added to the Constitution to protect us from despotism.
We don’t have to harken back to King George to get an idea what Madison and his cohorts were trying to protect against. Just imagine the current despots in say Russia or Venezuela with similar laws. Wouldn’t they love to have a list of their opponents financial supporters. How likely would anybody to contribute to the opposition if these guys had that information. Better still it would allow them to entangle their opposition and their supporters in endless confusing laws and regulations that could result in convictions and maybe even imprisonment. Oh, that’s the way these despots actually operate. Surely we would understand in these circumstances, free speech means the unfettered ability to contribute your efforts and money to any cause you choose. Well, thank goodness that could never happen here. If you believe that, you haven’t been paying attention to the IRS Scandal or you could just ask Dina.
But if we didn’t have our election laws, wouldn’t big money control everything? Surely the those who wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were aware of this problem and would favor laws to prevent this. Actually no. Even getting it through the State Conventions, the supporters of the new Constitution needed money disseminate the Federalist Papers (written anonymously by the way) and all the broadsides needed to convince people to vote to ratify. Does anybody think this was cheap? Pauline Mair in her fine book, Ratification, tells us of the widespread knowledge of the Constitution that fostered the great debate over its passage. Just like today,someone had to pay to get this information out. Even then there were special interests influencing the Constitutional Convention Delegates and the state conventions. Many of the delegates themselves were actively involved in various industries. People generally are not aware of the part these people of means played in this process in and out of the conventions. They weren’t all saints. One for example was a businessmen in a possibly distasteful industry. He was a major beer brewer and the owner of the largest distillery in the states. Reputed to have tapped a keg to influence election outcomes, contemporaries nevertheless attested to his contributions to the adoption of the document. Even though not one word of our constitution has ever been attributed to him, many of wrote that his wealth and position led to his backroom ability to bring people to compromise and smooth over conflicts. He strongly continued his efforts in the ratification process. Everybody knew the new Constitution would favor his interests by eliminating state tariffs, greatly expanding the market for his products. Yet we couldn’t find any record of anyone begrudging his efforts or for that matter any other wealthy person’s money spent in this endeavor. There was plenty of money spent in opposition and people at our founding knew that there was no free speech without money to propagate information, regardless of where it came from. Like the alcohol industry or not, without people like the booze Barron maybe we wouldn’t even have this Constitution.
Remember many at that time would’ve opposed the Constitution without the promise of a Bill of Rights that included the right to free speech. They felt what they did with their money in the political realm was their business and government interjecting itself into it could easily lead to despotism. That’s why you will find no mention of limits at the time. We think Dina would understand their mindset. Only in the modern era have we seen fit to turn this on its head. Possibly with cases like Dina Galassini v. Town of Fountain Hills our courts have begun to realize this. Oh by the way, the influential alcohol producing delegate was a fella named George Washington.