Freedom of Speech is meant to safeguard democracy, to protect people’s ability to freely engage in public discourse and govern themselves. But when outside donors (often unknown and untraceable) inject substantial sums to influence my community’s elections, such donors overstep the prerogative of choosing their representatives and encroach upon my community’s process of choosing our own.

I don’t oppose the modest donations of a candidate’s out-of-district friends and family. Indeed, I’ve made such donations to show solidarity – without tipping the scales. And I respect people’s right to participate in the electoral process to the fullest legal extent.

But I am alarmed by the significant expenditures being made by individuals, businesses, and others — with clear self-interest and no meaningful personal ties to the community — as part of larger strategic efforts to influence elections.

For example, I live in Connecticut’s ninth state senatorial district, where outside groups already have spent tens of thousands of dollars to determine my next state senator.

I have strong feelings about public policy, and I care about how my neighbors vote, but more important is that we focus on the candidates themselves, not on the noise of messages issued or amplified by outside donors investing for their own returns.

Which candidates reflect your values, not just in campaign promises, but in past efforts and accomplishments? Which have followed through on their commitments, whether in elected office or otherwise? Which have knocked on your door and reached out by phone? Which have embraced the rigors of a robust campaign, making themselves available to the people and the press?

Democratic self-governance demands participation well beyond the casting of a ballot, especially in this era of overwhelming outside campaign spending. At a minimum, we must reflect upon our political preferences and resist undue influence.

As proud Americans, our votes are critical. Our thinking must be, as well.

Ben Daigle is a criminal defense attorney representing people in Connecticut who are indigent.

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