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January 21, 2010

Supreme Court Strikes A Blow For Free Speech

by Doug Mataconis

By driving a stake through the heart of McCain-Feingold:

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that corporations may spend as freely as they like to support or oppose candidates for president and Congress, easing decades-old limits on business efforts to influence federal campaigns.

By a 5-4 vote, the court overturned a 20-year-old ruling that said companies can be prohibited from using money from their general treasuries to produce and run their own campaign ads. The decision, which almost certainly will also allow labor unions to participate more freely in campaigns, threatens similar limits imposed by 24 states.

(…)

The justices also struck down part of the landmark McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill that barred union- and corporate-paid issue ads in the closing days of election campaigns.

As I’ve said many times before, the only campaign finance regulation that we need is full and complete disclosure.

Every candidate for Federal office should be required to disclose all contributions and disbursements and a regular basis (possibly even more frequently than the quarterly reports that are now the law), and that information should be easily available to the public so that people can know where a candidate’s money comes from and where it goes. After all, isn’t that what the First Amendment is really all about — let the information out and let the public decide what to think about it ?

Here’s the full opinion and dissent:

Citizens Opinion

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10 Comments

  1. Corporations are not humans and therefore have zero rights under the US Constitution.

    The individuals that associate themselves with corporations have the right to support whoever they want with their own money.

    Comment by John — January 21, 2010 @ 7:01 pm
  2. Doug,

    I think I disagree. I would say that there should be no disclosure requirement at all, and no tax deduction.

    Small contributers with no power could be discouraged by the disclosure requirement, leaving them vulnerable to thugs.

    Large, powerful contributers are not going to be significantly impeded by a disclosure requirement or any law, for that matter.

    Regards, Don

    Comment by Don Lloyd — January 21, 2010 @ 9:02 pm
  3. American Democracy is as bankrupt as our economy.

    Comment by alec — January 22, 2010 @ 6:59 am
  4. Hey Now, Hey Now, Democracy Is Over…………

    In case you have any doubts, Corporate America has officially been given free reign over Washington DC and American ‘democracy’. The Supreme Court decided yesterday by a 5-4 margin that: The Supreme Court has ruled that corporations may spe…

    Trackback by Prose Before Hos — January 22, 2010 @ 7:12 am
  5. The issue is the freedom to express your opinion at anytime: during a campaign or not. If money really is *the* deciding factor, then Mitt Romney and not John McCain would have been the Republican nominee during the last election. Not to mention that Hillary should have beaten Barack Obama given her financial resources.

    A corporation is nothing more than one or more individuals engaged in business. Where he or they get the money to air publicly an opinion of support or opposition is not really the question. That the opinion can be and is expressed is.

    Comment by Harry Rossman — January 23, 2010 @ 3:03 pm
  6. A corporation is a collection of individuals engaged in business, but it is a separate legal entity from those individuals. A corporation is not an individual, and I don’t see where the constitution grants a corporation the same rights as an individual. Interestingly, this notion of corporate person-hood has advanced along with the size of the state. It really shouldn’t be surprising – as we’ve discussed before large businesses feed off of and take advantage of the state, and their interests are served by making the state larger so that they can further suppress citizens and competitors. Granting an organization that is much larger and more powerful than any individual the rights of an individual is a major threat to liberty.

    That being said I think campaign finance reform is a dismal failure, even though I don’t think that it is unconstitutional. I’ve started to hear some really good solutions that attack the problem from the other angle – increasing ethical requirements for members of congress. If someone donates large sums of money to your campaign, is there any reason it shouldn’t be viewed as a conflict of interest to vote on legislation that impacts the donor? If we did this then eventually members of congress would have to choose between taking donations and voting – and it is rather hard to run on a legislative record of constant abstention. Additionally we can shut down the revolving door by requiring that members of congress not serve in lobbying positions for a period of time before or after their time in office. There are probably more ideas that people can think of, but in general I think it is perfectly acceptable to increase the requirements for government employees – and it is something that I can see people from various political backgrounds supporting.

    Comment by CJS — January 25, 2010 @ 10:36 am
  7. “… A corporation is not an individual…”

    Legally, yes it is. Yet, using the legal distinction, in terms of expressing an opinion, is what the Supreme Court decision is all about: that behind every legal entity is at least one individual who is expressing his or her opinion.

    A good example of this is the AARP. Although it is a single legal entity, there are many individuals which make up that entity expressing their opinions through the legal entity and it’s funds. Unions operate the same way.

    Creating a “level playing field” is a siren song right up there with finding a pot-of-gold at the end of the rainbow. It just does not happen.

    Comment by Harry Rossman — January 25, 2010 @ 11:54 am
  8. Please, please go back and read the First Amendment. It restricts state action abridging free speech without reference to whom or what the abridgement would restrict. The First Amendment also carves out specific protection for the press. So while a generic corporation may not be reserved the full panoply of freedoms that the press might, there is no valid reason to read into the constitution any less freedom for speech from organized coalitions than from lone individuals.

    Justice Stevens dissent is instructive. He writes as if deadtree editions and mainstream media are still the dominant influences in our society. In so doing he attempts to preserve their influence to the disservice of the other channels that have grown and flourished. Stevens as the alleged preserver of individual freedom is actually undercutting it. If freedom of corporate expression is inhibited then the influence peddlers who get in bed with the Government, like Jeffrey Immelt, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and Eric Schmidt will have free rein to trample the individual without any competition from corporations who play the outside game.

    I would like to think that the Founders intended no less benefit of the First Amendment to Ben Franklin as a Publisher and Editor than they intended for Ben Franklin as private citizen.

    It is dangerous for politicians to abridge any type of individual or collective speech at almost any time for virtually any pupose.

    Comment by Let's Be Free — January 27, 2010 @ 7:54 am
  9. Harry Rossman – a corporation by definition is a legal entity separate from the individuals who own the corporations. That’s actually a benefit – it limits legal and financial liabilities of the owners. So that does mean that we can speak meaningfully about corporations and the owners of corporations as being separate entities.

    Let’s Be Free – I see your point. As I look into this further I see that restricting corporate speech could have further dangerous consequences if left unchecked. So I’m inclined to agree with you that the legal separateness of corporations doesn’t change their first amendment status (it may have other constitutional implications but that’s beyond the scope).

    Either way, I still see value in dealing with campaign finance issues by strengthening ethics rules for members of Congress. If the Obama administration is serious about re-opening the issue in light of the Supreme Court decision, then this is the route he should take. I’m not holding my breath.

    Comment by CJS — January 28, 2010 @ 7:48 am
  10. “…Either way, I still see value in dealing with campaign finance issues by strengthening ethics rules for members of Congress…”

    From my point of view, ethics “rules” are an exercise in futility. Especially when congress includes in most, if not every piece of legislation, the statement that congress is not bound by that law.

    What is needed are individuals who are not constantly trying to find some technical way to nullify the responsibility each has to obey the law or laws created for everyone else but not them.

    Comment by Harry Rossman — January 28, 2010 @ 9:17 am

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