Scott Gessler calls for fewer limits on campaign finance -- to protect free speech

Categories: Politics

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for 1 Scott Gessler, portrait.jpg
Scott Gessler
Restrictions on campaign finance are ultimately violations of free speech rights and do little to foster fair elections.

At least that's the argument of Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who, in a speech yesterday, said he would like to see fewer limitations on campaign finance, arguing that reform efforts generally have failed.

"I tend to be a free-speech absolutest.... We as humans, as Americans, have God-given rights to speak our mind," Gessler said at a University of Denver panel on campaign finance. "When you restrict people, and government shouldn't do are violating the First Amendment and you're harming our society greatly."

He added, "And practically, I don't think it works."

Scott Gessler, campaign finance panel.JPG
Sam Levin
Scott Gessler at DU yesterday.
This speech from Gessler, a Republican and Colorado's chief election officer, was delivered just weeks after the close of the presidential election, which resulted in millions of dollars spent in this key swing state.

The comments also come on the heels of Colorado voters overwhelmingly passing Amendment 65 -- a measure that calls for Colorado's congressional delegation to support limits on spending at the federal level. This measure -- which was overshadowed by Colorado's successful pot measure -- is symbolic, since governments can't restrict political spending at the state level.

As we reported, more than 70 percent of residents in Colorado from counties across the state voted in favor of A65, and its proponents say the message against excessive spending in politics is clear.

But Gessler, who has gotten a lot of attention this election cycle for his controversial anti-fraud iniaitives, says efforts to limit campaign spending have been unsuccessful. The more governments try to restrict this kind of spending, he believes, the more they will be interfering with basic constitutional rights.

"The world we live in is the one shaped by campaign finance regulations," said Gessler, who has taught election law at the University of Colorado and the University of Denver. "In Colorado...the people who have supported campaign finance regulations have gotten almost everything they wanted."

He was referring to Amendment 27, which passed in 2002 with the stated aim of curbing special interests in elections. The measure sets limits on contributions to candidates and was designed to encourage more candidates to run by restricting the extent to which corporations can influence races.

"Campaign finance regulation [is], in my view, very intensive, sometimes very intrusive," Gessler said. " many ways, on its own terms, it has failed as a system.... It has created harms and costs here that have distorted our political process in a way that does not serve democracy well."

Continue for more from Gessler's speech and response from his critics.

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If money is speech then poverty is silence.

DonkeyHotay topcommenter

$$$$ = Free Speech

Corporations = People

Repuglycans = Scum



Gessler's embracing the spirit and intent of A.J. Leibling's quote, "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." If you can write the checks, you can say all you want. My concern is what happens in the halls, corridors and behind the closed doors of power, where the seemingly unlimited influence of cash marginalizes thousands of votes in a heartbeat.


Money != speech.

Allowing unlimited spending enables special interests and individuals with large amounts of cash to abridge the free speech of everyone else by 'shouting' so loud no one else can be heard.  Take away the megaphones and allow their cause or candidte to stand on it's own merits.

If nothing else this election has demonstrated that the more money injected into a race, the less substantive the debate.  If funds are limited then the carpet bombing of adds might actually be replaced with convincing arguments backed up with verifiable facts, instead of relying on the old addage 'If you say something enough people will eventually believe it's true'.  Of course that will also require the general public to pay better attention between elections so they know when they are being sold a bunch of bull.

Despite what the pundits and ideologues would like us to believe, most of this country is longing for some way to come together for the common good.  The broad based support for curbing the obscene amount of money spent by a very small percentage of the voting population and by our new 'corporate citizens' in an effort to buy elections could be a good start.


Speech isn't free if you have to pay for it.

Cognitive_Dissident topcommenter

@IZen History will some day show that censorship of political advertisements was just another wrong-headed prohibition, bringing along all the foreseeable negative consequences that come along with prohibition and censorship in general. 

If you want substantive debate, then debate substantively. There was a lot of talk after this election about the fact that voters IGNORED the "high-powered" TV ads, most of which were half-truths and all-out lies, meant to tear down a political idea or a candidate. Besides--just because the noise has money attached to it doesn't mean it's the only thing false, or at all false. The media (pick Fox or MSNBC) have been known to twist the facts too, and they would do so if they were non-for-profit. 

Under prohibition of "corporate" ads, in fact, small groups which incorporate solely to be able to collectively share a common viewpoint would also be crushed, leaving you to depend on the morals and good judgment of commercial media. This sounds like a bad thing to me.

As for the "obscene amount of money" spent, ask the people at Westword, or any paper, how "obscene" is the money that runs their printing presses and their web site. Ask them if they SPEND the money they receive in their paychecks, into the economy at large. Imagine how much of that money comes from the "evil" richest two percent!

"Broad based support" for censorship/prohibition is support for an unfree society. I will go to bat AGAINST that kind of "broad based support" for authoritarianism every time. If the people can be trusted with a vote, they can be trusted to sort out the noise.

michael.roberts moderator editortopcommenter

@IZen Strong post, IZen. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


Unfortunately incumbents usually have the fund raising advantage and are loathed to give it up.


@Cognitive_Dissident First off let's get something straight.  I never passed moral judgment on anyone or called anybody EVIL.  I see it as people or corporations simply working within the framework they are presented to further what they see as in their own best interest.  My point was that this may not align with the best interest of the general population, and the framework is not set in stone.  

 I actually agree with you on your assessment of the coverage presented by the media and their halfhearted attempts at fact checking.  I don't agree with your application of politically charged terms like prohibition or censorship.

I also don't agree in this case with the overused and often unsupported 'your going to cost jobs and ruin the economy' argument.  In my opinion dysfunctional government is a much higher drag on the economy and job production than the reduction of a short term periodic injection of income to a particular industry.  I think the Westword specifically would fair just fine, and other outlets would be forced to adapt or yes some might die.

On the corporate front, what I find most disturbing is the lack of transparency provided by the citizens united ruling, specifically the ability to shift funds between entities without disclosure.  I also don't believe the super PACs are truly separate from the candidates they promote.  When they hire the same aids and operatives that were working for the candidate mere months prior, and certainly have the ability to communicate out of sight it makes it a bit of a farce.  I'm a firm believer that undisclosed political support leads to corruption and inefficiency in government.

While I may not come to the same conclusions as you, I welcome your well presented, and somewhat less inflammatory arguments as contributing to a more intelligent debate.

Thanks and respect,



@Cognitive_Dissident @IZen One more thing, I think it was more the of tone of your first reply rather than any particular words that brought out the inflammatory remark.


@Cognitive_Dissident @IZen Well, I just lost my long reply to your last reply without posting it but don't have time right now to retype it.  Basically I apologied for using somewhat less inflammatory when I should have said much less inflammatory.  'Imagine how much of that money comes from the "evil" richest two percent!" is really the only thing that struck me. 

I consider "carped bombing of ads' as as a colorfull colloquialism.  'Abridging the free speech of everyone else' is an accurate description of what I believe is happening and not meant to offend.  You can disagree with what constitutes an obscene amount of money but I don't see how it would inflame, maybe I'm wrong there.  

I personally draw a distinction between trying to state a case with strong conviction and a bit of flair, from trying to insult or belittle someone, although I'm probably guilty of that occasionally too.  I'll try to do better.

Cognitive_Dissident topcommenter

@IZen Is "Carpet bombing of ads" inflammatory? Is the idea that someone's purchase of ad time is "abridging the free speech of everyone else?" Is calling large amounts of money "obscene?" Is an unfocused accusation of trying to "buy elections?" I think so. Is paraphrasing Goebbels? Sounds a bit like Godwin's law to me.

Cognitive_Dissident topcommenter

@IZen Sorry if you thought "evil" was directed at you. It was not. It was directed at a presupposition built into "progressive thinking" that money is evil and/or the rich are evil, and or corporations are evil (I don't think the government construct of the corporation should exist, for the record. I think they should be free associations governed by contracts between the individuals involved, and that those individuals should never be able to escape liability for what they do.)

You don't have to agree, but you have to live in the reality. It IS censorship, when they tell you what you can and can't express, or what you must express, and it is prohibition when they tell you that you cannot express anything because you do not "qualify" under their rules.

I couldn't find where I suggested "your [sic] going to cost jobs and ruin the economy." I also couldn't find any suggestion that Westword would be hurt (at least significantly) by a drop in ad revenue from politics. Frankly, I'm not aware they, themselves, sell many political ads. The point I DID intend to make was that "progressives" usually obsess about rich people's money, that they HAVE it, and how it's spent. In this case, it's transferred into the economy to support a conveyance of an idea, which if wrong, can be judged critically and/or ignored.

With regard to transparency, I honestly don't think it's necessary. If someone doesn't want to tell you who they are, you're free to tune out the message. When I'm skeptical, I usually get on the internet and do a little digging, and if I don't know who says it, I can still check the validity of any statement made. I'm failing to see the harm. The plain fact is, things get misrepresented all over, and I really don't think censorship is a way to fix that. MORE speech from credible sources is the way to fix that.

I don't think anyone should have expected Citizens United to "provide transparency." It was a court ruling, not an act of Congress.

Regarding "super-pacs," how do you think they compare to massive unions?

The best thing to do is be an discerning adult and not listen to sources which you don't feel are reputable. If we didn't live in an environment in which we expected the state to protect us from everything, we wouldn't have unrealistic expectations, and most would be more skeptical than they are. They might actually grow as thinking beings! That would be quite an improvement. Relative freedom, in this regard, worked for over 100 years. it wasn't the freedom that spoiled the party, it was the massive government, and if you wish, the government-owned concept of the formal corporation. I'm a firm believer that the state is corrupt and inefficient by nature, and the bigger it gets, the more corrupt and inefficient.


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