A right, unequally available, is not a right, but is, instead, a privilege. And a government, whether a city council, a legislature, or a Congress, which perpetuates the furtherance of the latter rather than strengthens the opportunities embodied in the former acts against the foundation on which this nation is built.
By action or by inaction, a government which advocates privilege ignores the constitutional mandate to seek, on behalf of all of the people, a more perfect Union, to strive for justice and domestic tranquility, to promote the general welfare, and to secure the blessings of liberty for all—and replaces that mandate with a policy that favors the few who can afford to exercise a granted privilege.
If, as our founders proclaimed in separate expressions, all citizens are equal under the law, the concept of privilege violates that standard of legal equality.
These standards, here laid forth by one untrained in the law, have been argued in local, state, and national venues from the beginning of our country. They have been argued recently in one Jefferson City courtroom and likely will be argued in another one.
The issue is large amounts of money in political campaigns. The blatant use of it to buy candidates and laws is obvious. Missouri is the only state that gives those with a lot of money an ability far beyond the ability of the average citizen to influence public policy. The refusal by the legislature to even consider trying to let all citizens participate in the election process equally has become intolerable to those who have turned to the initiative process to replace the state-sanctioned privilege afforded the wealthy few with a plan to revitalize a right in which all can participate.
We are not saying the proposal that has withstood its first legal challenge is the best answer. But it is an inevitable result when those elected to serve on behalf of all Missourians lack the will to strengthen rights and therefore defend privilege, often for their own benefit.
More than three-hundred thousand Missourians signed a petition to reinstate campaign contribution limits in Missouri and keep political action committees from hiding the sources of the money they spend, supposedly independently of candidates. County clerks who looked at the names and signatures on those petitions have found enough valid ones to put the issue on the November ballot.
Opponents are challenging the constitutionality of the proposal. Supporters are saying there is no constitutional question until the proposal becomes law. Opponents say the proposal violates equal protection standards of the constitution because it denies certain entities from taking part in the financing of campaigns. Proponents can point to the last paragraph of the proposition that says courts can find part of the matter unconstitutional without endangering the validity of the remaining parts.
One of the arguments is that campaign finance restrictions limit freedom of speech by those who wish to express it through large campaign donations. But a freedom, unequally protected, is not a freedom. It is a privilege, a position of superiority, a violation of equality under the law. When freedom of speech is accorded greater weight to those with the ability to buy it, it is not a freedom. It is, in fact, a form of oppression.
At least, that is how this citizen continues to observe it, any legal rulings to the contrary notwithstanding.
The lawyer whose clients are challenging the proposed amendment to the state constitution, Chuck Hatfield, does not disagree that the present campaign system is out of hand—in fact he was a key figure nine years ago in a case that re-imposed campaign limits before the legislature EIGHT years ago eliminated them. But he thinks this proposal is flawed and should not have a chance to be enacted.
And therein lies the problem with initiative petitions that result from frustration with legislative inaction. The criticism from legislative circles used to be that initiative petitions are dangerous because they do not go through the rigorous wordsmithing that bills go through in the legislative process. And they are especially dangerous if they take the form of constitutional amendments. There might be some truth in that contention if one assumes that the legislative process works.
But when the legislature refuses to act, in fact when it seems to protect the status quo through rigid inaction, the penalty for that failure to act can be an initiative petition that raises its own constitutional questions. When government supports privilege instead of defending rights, it cannot be surprised that the people act.
And if, in the end, the people’s action is flawed, it is not the fault of the people. It is the fault of those who have chosen to sanction inequality for their own benefit. And it becomes the responsibility of voters—if only they will exercise it—to reverse that course not only through the initiative process but also through replacing those who support privilege for the few rather than rights available equally to all.