This is the kind of speech President Bush should consider making when presented by Congress with the campaign-finance bill now headed for passage:
My Fellow Americans:
On January 20, 2001, I took an oath to the United States of America. I put my hand on the Bible and repeated the following words: “I, George W. Bush, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of the President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, so help me God.”
A very important part of the Constitution that I swore to “preserve, protect and defend” is the Bill of Rights. And the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights states, in part, that “Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech …”
When I campaigned for president, and upon taking office, I made clear that if Congress passed a campaign-finance bill that violated the Constitution, I could not support it. Unfortunately, despite their own obligation to uphold the Constitution, and despite my warnings, a majority in Congress has sent me such a bill.
One of the most cherished rights acknowledged in the Constitution is that of free speech. The framers were especially concerned about protecting political debate. The campaign-finance bill is a clear attempt by Congress to regulate, among other things, your ability to criticize your member of Congress, or his opponent, within 30 days of a primary election and 60 days of a general election.
Specifically, members of Congress want to regulate when, how, and what individual citizens and citizen groups can say about candidates on television and radio, and in newspapers and magazines. In 1976, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Congress does not have the authority to curtail this kind of essential speech.
The proponents of this abridgment of speech have used various justifications and characterizations to defend their actions. They claim that issue advertisements critical of them, which are produced and paid for by various citizen groups, are “negative campaign ads.” They argue that by regulating and limiting these ads, they’re reducing the amount of money in politics and the influence of special interests.
I can tell you as someone who has stood for election several times that I don’t like ads that are critical of me. No candidate does. But that’s not a legitimate basis for changing the Constitution. And as for the influence of special interests, let me make a brief point. Virtually all of us belong to, or identify with, a church, social organization, club, business, union, member organization, and the like. These aren’t special-interest groups. They’re constituencies. They ought not be disparaged or dismissed. Their input should be welcome.
The Constitution preserves your right to criticize your member of Congress. It preserves your right to question his positions on issues that are important to you. And it preserves your right to join with other like-minded individuals, pool your resources, and communicate your views to your fellow citizens through common media outlets.
Democracy is strongest when the public is engaged, when debate is robust, and when competition for public office is vigorous. The campaign-finance bill is antithetical to these principles.
Some have written that this bill would give me an advantage should I run for reelection in 2004 by allowing my campaign to raise more money. But this isn’t about any one candidate. It’s about upholding the right of citizens to participate in the democratic process. It’s about defending the protections enumerated in the Bill of Rights.
I would no sooner sign this bill than put my signature to a law that would seek to restrict freedom of the press, limit the free exercise of religion, eliminate the right to bear arms, repeal private property rights, or deny an accused his right to counsel and due process.
I recognize that my decision to veto this bill will be unpopular in certain powerful circles. But I must remain faithful to my oath and my conscience.