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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Guest column: Considering money's fit in free speech

  • Did you know the First Amendment, the freedom of speech, was really the third? There were a dozen amendments voted on in 1791, and the first two did not pass. The third one voted on passed as our first in the Bill in Rights.President John Adams gave us one of the first uncontested legislation, after winning the trifec...
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  • Did you know the First Amendment, the freedom of speech, was really the third?
    There were a dozen amendments voted on in 1791, and the first two did not pass. The third one voted on passed as our first in the Bill in Rights.
    President John Adams gave us one of the first uncontested legislation, after winning the trifecta of our new government bodies and appointing most, if not all, federal judges. This was the Sedition Act of 1798, a law that criminalized criticism of the executive or government officials.
    Its first case was against a representative from Vermont, Mathew Lyon, who in a letter to the editor referred to President Adams as pomp, foolish, and selfish. He was sentenced to four months in jail and a $1,000 fine plus court costs.
    He could do the time — in fact, he was re-elected in jail — but could not pay the fine were it not for a true bailout by friends. This law was so inflammatory, a throwback to King George III, that it spurred such a backlash against Adams he lost re-election.
    Fear of losing an election had motivated a reaction to restrict our free speech. The second lesson would follow some time later.
    A fearful Congress of 1917 passed the Espionage Act. Any act, written or not, that criticized our form of government, considered to be against our war effort, recruiting, the flag or uniform, refusal for duty or even disloyal talk, was criminalized.
    Leaflets calling the military draft a form of slavery were considered a “clear and present danger” to our war effort and therefore our country. A speech by Eugene Debs advocated an obstruction to recruiting, which brought him 10 years in jail. 
    Again, fear that free expression would cause us to lose the war and undermine our country sidelined the First Amendment.    
    Are we again blinded by fear? A fear that money voluntarily donated by voters can destroy our democracy? Will the rich have free reign with this new “free speech designator?” Our forefathers touched on these issues as recorded in the Federalist papers.
    Factions that wish to repress the rights of others are based in part to various and unequal distribution of property;  the rich and poor, creditor or debtor are different distinct interests in society; and our republic-democracy must abide by the faction voted the more powerful by the majority rule.
    The elected will act to perpetuate their place and will act such they would fear not an election. The rich will more easily follow the consequences of a law for their benefit. They knew self-interest was the basis for the economy and the importance of money’s circulation is necessary in an economy.
    Page 2 of 3 - Should we be guided by a false fear of money in free speech? Do we not have enough faith that our form of government can balance the good from the bad influence?  
    So, I say, let the floodgates of money lift. I agree money is an expression of free choice. We pay for a product, and we express our desire for that product over others. We buy a certain amount of that product, again an indication of its demand. And, as we express our speech in the marketplace of products, we also express our speech in the marketplace of ideas.
    Money has always been there.
    We can counter ghostly fears with confidence. The voter has the choice to listen, watch, agree with or disagree with ads, fliers or paid campaign persons. The Internet is rife with information easy for the picking if only to be accessed.
    The remote is a powerful wand, turn off, mute the repetition or change the channel. The more money invested in changing your mind is the money that makes your vote worth more. Behaviors trump words. Get that voter ID card, stay in line to vote for as long as it takes, and don’t be intimidated because we have seen fear clamp our free speech before.
    Voting is most precious. Just by recognizing fear, it vanishes in a wisp.
    We control our thoughts, beliefs and wants through our experiences, education, fortune or misfortune. It is now that we accept the responsibility of our votes; hold firm that we are not hood-winked.
    A recent event is an example of what I mean. Our Senator Jerry Moran went to the floor to express the free speech of one of his esteemed moneyed contributors, a Koch brother, as well as himself.  A very rich contributor is given his right to free speech. Was it because he was a big donor and had Senatorial access? Whatever, it is the free speech that is important. I have researched the Koch family, a family in the public eye because of their extreme wealth and business acumen.
    We must decide the import of those words. Are they from your elected representative or a paid advertisement?  Does it matter? Both are free speech.
    Any constituent can have their article read as such. The words were already in public domain. Our job, as the renewed responsible voter, is to find out if our forefathers’ inklings were right. Does repeating words make them more important?
    We give as much power to the situation as we desire. Fear of being criticized by the electorate, fear of losing a war, fear that money will monopolize and compromise our ability to think.
    Page 3 of 3 - I say let money be spent — it's good for the economy. Fear of being bought is a throwback to a previous war, the Civil War.

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