"The people shall not be restrained from peacefully assembling and consulting for their common good, nor from applying to the legislature by petitions, or remonstrances for redress of their grievances." - President James Madison
The James Madison Center for Free Speech was founded to protect the First Amendment right of all citizens to free political expression in our democratic Republic. Its purpose is to support litigation and public education activities in order to defend the rights of political expression and association by citizens and citizen groups as guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
The Threat to Free Political Speech
There are powerful forces in government, both state and federal, who view the First Amendment's protection of political expression as a loophole in our election laws that they must close. Some, therefore, are seeking to use government to suppress the right of citizens and citizen groups to participate in our democratic process by limiting their right to speak out about the actions of public officeholders and the position of candidates on issues and by limiting the right of citizens to join together to make their voices heard on issues of public concern. Federal efforts to suppress the free speech and free association rights of citizens and citizen groups include the twenty year war on the First Amendment conducted by the Federal Election Commission in its unsuccessful effort to suppress issue advocacy, the push for McCain-Feingold “campaign reform” legislation, and the recently inaugurated effort by the Brennan Center for Justice to overturn the speech protective rulings of the Supreme Court in Buckley v. Valeo.
State efforts to suppress First Amendment rights also abound, including passage of state laws outlawing voter guides, reducing political party activities, penalizing independent expenditures and limiting contributions to candidates and political committees.
This assault to the First Amendment is supported by wealthy individuals and foundations and by the institutional media. If the political speech of citizens and citizen groups is successfully suppressed, these groups will benefit because only their voices will be heard.
Free Political Expression Is Protected by the First Amendment
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution, however, protects the right of political expression of citizens and citizen groups. The First Amendment provides that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.” This Amendment was incorporated in our Constitution, at the urging of James Madison, to protect “indispensable democratic freedoms.”Freedom of speech and association were viewed by the Framers of the Constitution as essential to democracy. As the courts have explained:
(i)f popular elections form the essence of republican government, free discourse and political activity formed the prerequisite for popular elections.
Thus, “freedom of speech plays a fundamental role in a democracy. . . (I)t ‘is the matrix, the indispensable condition of nearly every other freedom.'”
The Supreme Court has held, therefore, that political expression is “at the core of our electoral process and of First Amendment freedoms.”
(T)he First Amendment right to ‘speak one's mind . . . on all public institutions' includes the right to engage in “‘vigorous advocacy' no less than ‘abstract discussion.'” Advocacy of the election or defeat of candidates for federal office is no less entitled to protection under the First Amendment than the discussion of political policy generally or advocacy of the passage or defeat of legislation.
Thus, the Court has concluded that “it can hardly be doubted that the constitutional guarantee (of the First Amendment) has its fullest and most urgent application precisely to the conduct of campaigns for political office.”
To date, the federal courts, including the United States Supreme Court, have vigorously protected the First Amendment right of citizens and citizens' groups to free political expression. The seminal case is Buckley v. Valeo, decided in 1976, which struck down, on First Amendment grounds, many of the speech limiting provisions of the post-Watergate amendments to the Federal Election Campaign Act. Other important decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court protecting free political expression and association are NCPAC v. Federal Election Commission, Federal Election Commission v. Massachusetts Citizens for Life, McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission, and Federal Election Commission v. Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Committee.
Purpose of the James Madison Center for Free Speech
The James Madison Center for Free Speech is formed in response to this concerted attack on political speech which is at the core of the First Amendment and is essential to our democracy. The Madison Center is named after the author of the First Amendment and it's principal sponsor, James Madison, and is guided by Madison's belief that “the right of free discussion . . . (is) a fundamental principle of the American form of government. “The purposes of the Madison Center, therefore, are to promote, through educational activities, respect for the rights of freedom of speech and freedom of association guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and to defend the rights of freedom of speech and freedom of association by providing legal representation to those persons and entities whose rights are threatened by government action.
The Madison Center is dedicated to offering legal assistance to citizens and citizens' groups in order to challenge state and federal election laws and regulations that suppress their free speech and free association rights. Furthermore, the Madison Center is willing to defend citizens and citizens' groups when these right are threatened by government enforcement actions. Finally, the Madison Center will provide nonpartisan analysis and testimony regarding proposed legislation.
The James Madison Center for Free Speech is an internal educational fund of the James Madison Center, Inc., a District of Columbia non-profit corporation. The James Madison Center for Free Speech is tax-exempt and contributions to it are tax-deductible under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. -First Amendment to the US Constitution