St. Mary's Law Journal


The 1992 presidential candidacy of Jerry Brown, who called for campaign contribution limits, has reignited the issue of campaign finance reform. Indeed, the United States Supreme Court has recognized the importance of campaign finance reform as a judicial issue. The importance of this issue is marked by the Court’s continued willingness to address the regulation of campaign finance since the 1976 landmark case of Buckley v. Valeo. The case of Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce emphasized the somewhat confused nature of the Supreme Court’s campaign finance reform decisions. The Supreme Court and state legislatures will likely continue to address the important relationship between campaign financing and political corruption. These bodies will continue to wrestle with the issues of equality in the political process. Finally, the dissenting Justices in Austin are quickly becoming representative of the Supreme Court’s majority. The Supreme Court Justices’ decision to adopt the powerful metaphor that money is speech and deserving of constitutional protection allows the Justices to appear as champions of free speech and civil liberties. The dissenting Justices in Austin, by conflating money and speech, fail to heed a distinction made by John Stuart Mill who argues the “doctrine of Free Trade … rests on grounds different from, though equally solid with, the principle of equal liberty.” Mill warned society not to confuse the regulation of the economic marketplace with the marketplace of ideas. According to Mill, to regulate trade is to limit ideas which do not harm another, but which are suppressed for their own sake. If money is allowed to commodify goods such as free speech and if society does not accept the logic found in the dissents of Austin, the political philosophies may gradually be reduced to what will be most important and unfortunate, our political philosophies of money.


St. Mary's University School of Law