Recently reelected by an exceedingly narrow margin, Congressman Tim Bishop of New York’s First Congressional District, knows what is to blame for the electoral bullet he so narrowly dodged: the First Amendment. Writing in Newsday, Rep. Bishop calls for more campaign finance regulation because, after Citizens United, “any person or group can spend an unlimited amount of money to advocate for or against a candidate in federal elections.” The dangers of people engaging in unlimited advocacy for or against a candidate in federal elections are practically self-evident: some of that speech may be directed against politicians who do not think they deserve to be the target of “partisan attacks.” People like Tim Bishop, for example.
Rep. Bishop believes that unregulated political speech leads to “incivility and misinformation,” and that type of speech needs to stop. In short, Rep. Bishop wants to control the amount of speech that occurs in campaigns because he is in power and people say bad things about him. But that is the purpose of the First Amendment: to allow people to freely criticize people in government without government interference.
For all his complaints about misinformation, Rep. Bishop’s piece is filled with errors and misstatements that he could have corrected by spending five minutes on the Internet (for instance, Citizens United did not overturn a century of legal precedent and individuals have had a recognized constitutional right to spend unlimited amounts in federal elections since 1976). Indeed, it is disturbing that a U.S. congressman knows so little about the constitutional provision he wishes to eviscerate and the cases interpreting it. Rep. Bishop does understand one thing very well, though: campaign finance regulation insulates those in power from criticism and, as one of those in power, he thinks that that is a very good thing.