This Week’s Cartoon: “Zero-Sum Speech”

I’m out of town at the moment, so I will have to let this passage from the NYT article summarize the relevant issue for me:

To William Maurer, the lawyer opposing the Arizona mechanism, whenever “a privately financed candidate speaks above a certain amount, the government creates real penalties for them to have engaged in unfettered political expression.” That “speaks” was not a slip, but a reinforcement of the money-equals-speech notion.

The fundamental problem, he said, is “the government turning my speech into the vehicle by which my entire political message is undercut,” because the public funds triggered are a penalty that reduces the impact of the privately financed candidate’s spending and speech. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. made clear in the argument that he, too, sees triggered matching public funds as a limit on the privately financed candidate’s speech.

I am simply incapable of wrapping my mind around this interpretation of the First Amendment. To see the world this way, you literally have to have your brain screwed in backwards.


  • Tom

    If money is “speech,” then I shouldn’t be penalized if I offer the traffic cop $100 in crisp new bills when I’m stopped for speeding, right? After all, I was just exercising my 1st Amendment right to speak to the traffic cop! :^)

    On a more proactive note: Someday I might be arrested and my case, like that of Gideon vs. Wainwright, could make its way to the Supremes. So I and all of us should start preparing now. Get a few envelopes and some stamps and start mailing $1 bills to the five justices who decided the Citizens United case. Politely explain that if and when you have to plead your case before the Supremes that you will have had a chance to exercise your free speech rights! Maybe it could be 20 or 25 years from now, but sending a dollar bill every week, you will have exercised at least $1,000 of “free speech!”

  • Kevin Moore

    These are the same people who complain you are infringing on their free speech rights whenever you disagree with them or prove them wrong. Cf. Palin, Sarah.

  • Jen Sorensen

    @Tom – I actually drew that traffic cop gag in an early Slowpoke cartoon about campaign finance reform, but I don’t think it’s online.

    @Kevin – Not only that, but it’s BLOOD LIBEL!

  • John

    I almost gagged when I read the first panel, not having heard of this before.

    So government donations obstruct Exxon’s free speech, but Exxon’s donations don’t obstruct mine?

    That wouldn’t convince a 9-year-old. The fact that Roberts even entertains this mangled non-reasoning can only mean he is doing favors for his friends. He can’t possibly be *that* stupid, or abstracted away from reality.

  • Bill Freese

    During Roberts’ confirmation hearings, I kept waiting for someone to ask him about his worship of the rich. All anybody wanted to know about was his position on abortion. Let us remember this the next time a Supreme Court justice is nominated. The Supreme Court is not just the body that determines abortion rights. It does other things, too.

Jen Sorensen is a nationally-published political cartoonist. She is a 2017 Pulitzer Finalist and recipient of the 2014 Herblock Prize and a 2013 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award.