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Saturday, September 05, 2009

Do Corporations Have a Right to Free Speech?

The Supreme Court is going to decide if corporations have First Amendment rights that allow "direct, unlimited corporate participation in campaigns." Let's hope the decision is that they don't:

Corporate free speech? Since when?, by Jim Sleeper, Commentary, Boston Globe: ...Theodore B. Olson, George W. Bush’s solicitor general until 2004 ... is now the lead advocate for Citizens United, a nonprofit corporation that produced “Hillary: The Movie’’ to swift-boat Senator Clinton’s presidential campaign.
“Hillary’’ didn’t get much distribution because campaign-finance laws ... and court rulings ... bar corporate-funded ads from elections. But now the Supreme Court will review Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission on Sept. 9. Free-speech absolutists, from the National Rifle Association to the American Civil Liberties Union, support Citizens United ’s claim that FEC restraints were unjustified.
But if they win, free speech will be drowned out... Corporations are creations of the republic, not its equals or superiors. We citizens charter them, protect them legally, subsidize them, and even bail them out - and punish them when, as with Pfizer Chemical, their profit-maximizing violates drug-safety rules. We couldn’t do that if a level playing field of “robust speech’’ were overwhelmed by corporate speech...
That’s what’s at stake in the Supreme Court’s worrisome readiness to consider overturning restrictions the republic was wise enough to enact. If Olson’s business clients want to smear Clinton, let them do it openly, not from behind the façade of a corporation claiming First Amendment rights. ...

And:

Will Deep Pockets Always Win? It's In Roberts's Court., by Robert G. Kaiser, Commentary, Washington Post: ...This year or next the court could ... remake the American system by permitting a flood of corporate money into our electoral campaigns..., such a decision would create vast new opportunities for a particular class of Americans..., corporate elites. ...

Until this summer, the barriers preventing the use of corporate and union funds in political campaigns -- the oldest dating to 1907 -- were "firmly embedded in our law"... Could the court really allow corporations and their agents -- the Chamber of Commerce, say, or coalitions of companies created for the purpose -- to campaign openly for or against individual candidates for federal office? Yes, it could. Campaign finance reformers are afraid that the two newest conservative members of the court, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, may be eager to overturn a long line of precedents. ...

How would the political world be changed by legalized corporate campaigning? There would be a vast increase in the influence of corporations. ... Not surprisingly, corporate interests have always done well in Congress. More than a quarter-century ago, then-Sen. Bob Dole ... told the Wall Street Journal: "When these political action committees give money, they expect something in return other than good government."

"We may reach a point," Dole predicted, "where if everybody is buying something with PAC money, we can't get anything done." Dole was prophetic. Congress has failed to legislate on urgent issues for years -- think of health care, climate change, immigration, Social Security and Medicare. The organized interest groups that surround those issues rely on money to defend their positions and frustrate new initiatives. This is the wall our new president ran into this summer.
What is now called "corporate" money in our politics is raised from the shareholders and executives of the companies that maintain PACs. Unions similarly collect PAC contributions from their members. Executives and their families can make personal donations. These are the only legal ways for corporate executives and companies to contribute to campaigns. The law sets limits on how much both PACs and individuals can raise and give...
A decision to allow direct, unlimited corporate participation in campaigns would nullify the impact of those rules. American corporations ... would obviously have enough money to blow the roof off campaign spending standards.
But the most dramatic effect of eliminating legal restrictions on corporations' spending could come not in campaigns but in the realm of lobbying. Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21 ... explained: "Just imagine the impact on a member of Congress in the midst of deciding what to do on health care or climate control or banking legislation if the member knew that dozens of companies in affected industries each could spend millions of dollars . . . on full-scale campaigns to defeat or elect the member." ...

    Posted by on Saturday, September 5, 2009 at 09:39 AM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  Comments (40)

          


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