Money and Speech

The big problem with the Supreme Court’s insistence–ever since Buckley v. Valeo— that money is just a different form of speech is that the equation ignores reality.

In theory, it’s logical: I should be able to use my dollars to voice my support of the candidate who favors the same spay-neuter policies that I support. I should be able to signal my support for Candidate A by buying an ad in the local newspaper, or pooling funds with others to run that ad demonstrating that Candidate B pulled wings off flies when he was young. Whatever.

It’s freedom, dude.

The problem, of course, is that equating money with speech gives some people much louder voices than others. (You’d think the great minds on the Court might have noticed this lack of fiscal parity and been troubled by its implications, but this obvious privileging of the wealthy and powerful evidently escaped the majority’s notice.)

I thought about the consequences of the “money equals speech” formula yesterday, during a discussion with one of the producers of the homelessness documentary about which I’ve previously posted, “Uncharted: The Truth Behind Homelessness.” The small team that produced the documentary about the treatment of homeless folks in Indianapolis produced it on the proverbial shoestring;  now they are trying to raise enough money to promote it, and it has been a slog.

People who want to “sell” Indianapolis, people with a vested interest in a particular version of local reality, who want to focus national attention on our sports venues or other “shiny objects” have plenty of resources with which to do that. Their free speech rights are easy to exercise. The passionate students who put together this thoughtful and well-made film have the same theoretical freedom of speech that the cheerleaders enjoy. What they don’t have is resources.

A cynic might suggest that, without resources, their free speech rights are rather illusory.

I’m not in a position to change the jurisprudence that has gotten us here, but I am in a position to send a small check, to try to even the playing field just a little, to ensure that a disfavored message has a chance to be communicated. I hope some of the readers of this blog will join me. We’ll never have the decibels of the Koch Brothers, but together, perhaps we can help make at least this one message more audible.

This is their Paypal link: 

Want to send a check? It can be made out to Lighthouse Research and mailed to: 12210 Laurelwood Ct., Indianapolis, IN 46236.

Because we know what the Court refused to acknowledge: free speech isn’t free.


  1. If it ain’t for everyone it ain’t freedom.

    Speech isn’t free if it can be bought.

    I believe that one consideration that SCOTUS might have undervalued is that there exists today powerful persuasion technology for sale. It’s not that a word from my mouth is the same as a word from a Koch with several million bucks behind it invested in media’s best amoral pursuasion oil. So the most effective free speech is not free at all. Minds can be bought. All business knows and uses that reality.

    In fact Sheila’s appeal here recognizes that people with talent enough to expose the public persuasively to the plight of homeless people are not limited by their creativity but by money to buy eyes and ears and open minds.

    Obviously much of what we ask of SCOTUS is to adapt the thoughts and words of yesteryear to modernity without losing the wisdom behind them. A tough assignment that requires the most nimble of minds. Could that be limited by cultural cognition?

  2. Hi everyone,

    My name is Don Sawyer of a Bigger Vision, LLC. We are the Indianapolis based film production company Sheila is posting about for, I think, for the third time. First, we at aBV would like to thank you for your comments on her past posts about us, and thank anyone who came to our first screening. If you are in town over the weekend, we strongly urge you to take 97mins out of your Saturday, August 30th to come to our screening at the Indianapolis Museum of Art at either 1p.m. or 4p.m. Admission is free: You can just show up!
    We had 400+ people at our first showing, but it should have been closer to 600. Our film has been informally boycotted by the homeless intervention and prevention apparatus of Indianapolis, which includes IMPD, Mayor’s office, CHIP and the homeless service provider community. The irony lies in the fact that 80 to 90% of what is said in the film comes directly from the mouths of representatives of this group. Most of the people from this group who are in the film didn’t even show up.
    The problem is simple: We didn’t spin the truth. We presented the truth as we found it without passion or prejudice: Maybe it’s presented with a little passion. We gave the homeless community a voice, and some people in positions of power don’t like that. But the worse part of all of it is, they have made their judgments without even seeing the film.
    Our original intention was to take on stereotypes of the homeless community (all homeless people are lazy and don’t want to work, all homeless people are addicts, etc.), show cool evidence of how many formerly homeless individuals turn right around and work to get others out, etc. We had to make a journalistic choice, however, to either stay with the original plan, or to report the truth as we found it: We chose the latter.
    UNCHARTED: THE TRUTH BEHIND HOMELESSNESS is a film that every voting age adult, and close to voting age adolescents living in Indianapolis should see. If the citizenry of Indianapolis knew the truth behind Indianapolis homelessness and why it is the way it is, we believe the Hoosier moral sensibilities would start to vibrate, and that would lead to this issue being addressed. This is what the current administrators of the homeless intervention and prevention apparatus of Indianapolis fear about our film, and that’s why we have had such a struggle bringing the film forward to a public that has been masterfully messaged into believing everything with homelessness in Indy is currently being addressed, and under control.
    Professor Kennedy has been a great friend to us, and we thank you again, Sheila, for your support. Making a movie costs a lot of money, and as this blog post indicates, we have no more shoestrings to pull on financially. If you can help, please know the money will be used to bring a compelling message forward that how the homeless problem is being addressed in Indianapolis is not O.K., but the solutions are very clear to see, and very attainable with just a little leadership from those in power. You can find our PayPal account in the Sam Mirpoorian post (the first PayPal account we provided Sheila was not working), or see the blog post to find where to send a check.
    Be well, and thank you.

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