Dec 21

Money is Speech. And this has been Known since at least 1830


by Roger I. Roots,
Founder, Lysander Spooner University

Over the past few years, I have become more interested in the topic of campaign finance laws, and how such laws interfere with freedom of speech.

Since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, there have been thousands of published proclamations that campaign speech freedom will bring an end to democracy itself. There have even been votes in Congress to repeal parts of the First Amendment in order to give government more power to regulate and control political speech.

Occasionally I hear people proclaim that “money is not speech!” And therefore, such voices suggest, the First Amendment is no bar to government regulations aimed at campaign spending.

Is this true?

I spent a few moments googling to try to find out if any ancient voice had pronounced that money is speech (or that money is not speech).

It didn’t take long to find the following:

An 1830 essay by Josiah Warren of Cincinnati, Jan. 30, 1830. “It is well known . . . that printing is a power that governs the destinies of mankind: and therefore those who can control the printing-press can control their fellow creatures. . . . At this time, 1830, the means of printing are so expensive that the great mass of the people are almost totally deprived of their use–while the wealthy few (by their capital or influence) wield this mighty engine, to increase their own power, and to weaken that of others.

Thus, as early as 1830 it was recognized that political speech was not “equally distributed.” The “rich” could exercise their rights more than the “poor.”

* Josiah Warren, Reduction in the Cost of Printing Apparatus, Mechanics’ Magazine and Journal of Science, Arts, and Manufactures, Volume 13 (1830).