July 17, 2012
Photo illustration: Newseum

Photo illustration: Newseum

First Amendment Survey: Public Opposes Unlimited Campaign Spending

WASHINGTON — About two-thirds of Americans oppose unlimited campaign spending by corporations and unions, according to the 2012 State of the First Amendment national survey released July 17, 2012, by the Nashville, Tenn.-based First Amendment Center.

Campaign spending is a volatile issue in this year's presidential and congressional campaigns. Asked whether corporations and unions should be able to spend as much as they want in support of or opposition to political candidates, 63 percent said "no," 30 percent said "yes" and 7 percent were undecided.

In a controversial 2010 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court — in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission — removed spending limits on those groups, citing the First Amendment's protection for political speech.

The survey also found that 59 percent of Americans oppose — with 44 percent saying they "strongly oppose" — the government's being allowed to take control of the Internet and limit access to social media and Web outlets such as AOL and Yahoo in the event of a national emergency.

The latest results in the First Amendment Center-sponsored surveys, conducted since 1997 on public knowledge and opinion about the First Amendment, were released at the National Press Club in a presentation by First Amendment Center President Ken Paulson and Senior Vice President Gene Policinski.

On other social-media issues, the survey found:

  • 62 percent said public schools should not be able to punish students for posting offensive content on social media.
  • 46 percent said people should be allowed to post copyrighted material without paying rights fees as long as no money is being made, with 42 percent opposed. However, 64 percent would not approve of such postings if money was being made, and 59 percent favor prosecution of those who illegally distribute copyrighted music and movies.

"The survey results suggest that most Americans see unauthorized downloading as a crime, but a plurality also want to protect the right to use copyrighted content as part of their free expression, a legal principle called 'fair use,'" Paulson said. "Free speech and copyright are not mutually exclusive."

The event, a luncheon hosted by the Freedom Forum's "Free Spirit" program, was co-sponsored by the American Society of News Editors and the National Press Club.

The 2012 national survey of 1006 adults was conducted in June by telephone by the PERT Group, based in Bloomfield, Conn. For results of the full survey and information on other First Amendment issues, please visit www.firstamendmentcenter.org.

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