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Unfree Speech: The Folly of Campaign Finance Reform Hardcover – March 1, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Law professor and Federal Election Commission member Smith does not beat around the bush: "Almost everything the American people know, or think they know, about campaign finance reform is wrong," and he proceeds to say why in a work that is both enlightening and entertaining. The popular perception of campaign financing is that of a corrupt system in which a few wealthy contributors have undue influence upon the decisions of lawmakers. In fact, Smith goes to great lengths to show, the system works pretty well. Comparatively, he says, not that much is really spent on campaigns Americans spend more on both potato chips and Barbie dolls and there is little if any proof that the system does in fact corrupt or privilege one group's interests over those of others. But reformers must reform, and in doing so, Smith says, they have made matters worse. Reform has tended to favor incumbents and wealthy candidates, to discourage grassroots organizing, to turn campaign discussion into a mush of platitudes. And with every reform failure the reformers must add another reform, until campaign finance regulation becomes a "mosh pit" of confusion and cross-purposes. This might all be funny were it not, Smith contends, that campaign finance reform is simply unconstitutional he argues that it threatens the freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment. To say the least, there are many who will disagree with Smith's findings and conclusions. But this is a marvelous contrarian view: moderate in tone, elegant in language, clever in argument. (Mar.)Forecast: Could a book be more timely? If Princeton promotes it vigorously, it should generate some controversy among pundits and sell honorably well.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

In early 2000, Smith, a professor at Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio, was nominated to a six-year term on the Federal Election Commission. That's significant because Smith is a notable academic supporter of the notion that money equals speech, the position partially espoused by the U.S. Supreme Court in Buckley v. Valeo and aggressively presented by some Republicans in opposing current campaign finance reform legislation. His book explores the history (and unintended consequences) of previous campaign finance regulation, discusses constitutional issues, and analyzes future alternatives. At the center of Smith's argument is a utilitarian analysis of the behavior of candidates, contributors, and voters. He challenges reformers' assumptions that too much money is spent on campaigns, giant contributions drown out the voice of the people, spending determines results, and campaign money corrupts Congress. Although more sympathetic to disclosure than to contribution limits, Smith is ultimately a First Amendment absolutist, urging that any limitation on campaign contributions restricts free speech. Both opponents and supporters of McCain-Feingold should spend some time with this thoughtful study. Mary Carroll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (March 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691070458
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691070452
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,443,390 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By "bruney6" on November 14, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This book changing my way of thinking 180 degrees. I was a huge John McCain and Campaign Finance Reform fan, but I read this book just to see what the other side had to say. I am sure glad I did! Smith points out many problems with alleged reform on mulitple levels. If you are interested in campaign finance reform, however you may feel about the subject, I suggest you read this book.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 14, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Smith's book is a breath of fresh air in the altogether stagnant debate about the "evil" of money in politics. Smith gives a concise and enlightening history of attempts to control money and speech in American politics and devotes a substantial portion of the book to looking at various "remedies" to the "problem of money." He offers a unique and well-researched look at the many wrong assumptions and fallacious ideas surrounding the current debate on campaign finance. However, as well-written and easy to read as the entire book is, NO ONE should miss reading the last chapter. It is thoughtful, passionate, mind-expanding, and should compell everyone who reads it to stand up for freedom of speech, lest we lose it forever.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 4, 2001
Format: Hardcover
There are lots of sensationalistic books out there about politics and money, most with sensationalistic titles: "The Money Chase," "The Money Men," "The Buying of the President," "The Best Congress Money Can Buy," "The Corruption of American Politics," etc. ad nauseum.
Smith's book is different. Smith argues that the problem of money in politics is vastly overblown, and presents both empirical data and theory to show why. He explains how money in politics actually helps political outsiders and traditionally disadvantaged groups and candidates. He argues convincingly that money makes politics *more* equal, not less. If any of these notions seem strange, consider (as Smith shows) that those who write from the opposing point of view are largely the ones who have created our current campaign finance system.
The writing is at times eloquent, yet straight forward and to the point. For example, would government funding solve the problem? Smith points out that "We have 100 percent government financing of the presidential general election campaigns now." Yet no one thinks that has solved the problems of presidential elections. Should campaign spending by interest groups be limited? The McCain-Feingold bill tries to do so on the grounds that candidates should "control" their campaigns. But Smith asks, "Are efforts to persuade fellow citizens how to vote 'corrupting,' or are they the essence of democracy?" Do you join those who ridicule the position of the United States Supreme Court, that limits on campaign spending restrict free speech?
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By David Thomson on April 11, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I sense that Bradley Smith underestimates the problem of mammoth campaign contributions by wealthy individuals and organizations. Many citizens like myself are uneasy when money seems to play an unjustifiable role in the political arena. Nonetheless, the author presents us with a compelling argument that current campaign reform initiatives such as the McCain-Feingold bill will likely cause more harm than good. "Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech," is interpreted by many people in a very absolutist manner; the word "no" is suppose to mean exactly that, and it is not a negotiable starting point. Smith cherishes this principle but goes one step further and clearly points out the practical consequences likely if this constitutional dogma is ignored. The devil is in the details, and we are forced to ask who is going to decide what constitutes legitimate funding of present day political matters? Do Americans truly wish to leave this task to even the most honest and benevolent members of the U.S. Congress? Smith believes that inevitably, human nature being what it is, the Congressional incumbents will enact rules favoring their own reelections. Can anybody logical dispute this overwhelming probability? The Founding Fathers rightfully embraced a pessimistic notion of human nature. After all, the at least metaphorical reality of Original Sin is still alive and well on planet earth.
The concept of unintended consequences is very relevant. Almost certainly, any new law passed by Congress will be subjected to meticulous examination by those desiring to minimally obey the letter of the law while violating its spirit. Rules must not be "broken," but they are to be be stretched and manhandled to the utmost.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By R. Ostendorp on November 26, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I can't speak for others, but in my case I was always of the impression that campaign finance was the best solution for the country. I bought into the idea that there was massive corruption in government, and that a way to curb this would be through restricting contributions from large donors. This is what I was always led to believe, so naturally I would be for campaign finance reform.

After reading Bradley Smith's book, however, my view on the issue has completely changed. He documents in great detail the harm of campaign finance, how it can restrict the political speech of challengers and grassroots movements, and ultimately how the reform process will never end if it continues, and will only bring on more restrictions to help close "loopholes" in the current set of reforms.

Though I believe there is still a great deal of discrimination and corruption in politics (just look at the voter caging that took place in the 2000 and 2004 elections), I no longer am of the viewpoint that money is THE key factor in this problem, and limiting its use in the campaign process will only hurt the average US citizen's means of obtaining information and supporting a candidate in a monetary sense, rather than promote an even playing field for all those involved in an election.
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