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The Supreme Court and Corporate Speech


Clayton Morgareidge for the Old Mole Variety Hour

 Audio version, click here.  
Last week, in what some are calling the most consequential decision in decades, the Supreme Court struck down the ban on corporations contributing corporate funds to political campaigns for federal office. 
For a little background, we go to a piece from Think Progress:
During the 2008 presidential campaign, the conservative group Citizens United [used corporate money to make] a movie critical of Hillary Clinton but was barred from distributing it on local cable systems because federal courts said it “looked and sounded like a long campaign ad, and therefore should be regulated like one.” The Supreme Court then took up the case and… ruled 5-4 to allow corporations and unions to spend unlimited funds in support for, or opposition of, federal candidates. The monumental ruling throws out a “a 63-year-old law designed to restrain the influence of big business and unions on elections.
As Common Cause noted, the ruling “will enhance the ability of the deepest-pocketed special interests to influence elections and the U.S. Congress.” U.S. PIRG called it a “shocking burst of judicial activism” that treats corporations “in the same manner as ordinary citizens.” Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21 said the ruling will “create unprecedented opportunities for corporate ‘influence-buying‘ corruption.”
The ruling is a giant win for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the big corporations, which tend to donate heavily to Republicans. Many Republicans have therefore come out and praised today’s decision…
On Friday, the Oregonian printed a little Winners and Losers score sheet from the Associated Press identifying The First Amendment as one of the winners, since the court agreed with those who thought strict limits on corporate campaign financing was “an unconstitutional restraint on free speech.” But the AP doesn’t think to suggest that the biggest losers are real people whose free speech is about to be drowned out by the much bigger and luder speech of artificial persons, i.e. corporations. Michael Silverstein has some fun with this further grant of personhood to corporations, writing:
The Supreme Court has struck a mighty blow for corporate freedom. By courageously setting aside past legal precedents that have kept corporations (which after all are just folks like everyone else) from enjoying their full free speech rights, corporations can now express themselves the same way every other decent individual does — with huge infusions of money into the political system.
This is a very important decision that the Founding Fathers would doubtless have found..well, interesting. Yet it is only a first step in giving corporations the full enfranchisement to which they are certainly entitled. We thus need a strong follow through. I’m thinking a good first step here would be sponsorship rights for elections.
With local governments so hard pressed for cash these days, doesn’t it make common sense, and constitutional sense, according to our present supreme court, for corporations to sponsor local elections the way they now sponsor other competitions like sports events? I’m looking ahead to the next congressional race in my own very liberal Philadelphia congressional district which soon might be renamed the Tostito Lefty Bowl. Tawdry, you say? Inane? Unspeakably vulgar? Let traditionalists whine all they want. Free speech is free speech for those who might see an interest in spending it.
Silverstein goes on to ask why corporations should not hold office, and looks
forward to the day when Congresscorp Procter & Gamble and Senator Burger King can meet with President Apple to work out health care policy...
But seriously, folks, what are the big issues here? One of them is the ongoing elevation of corporations to the status of persons with the same basic rights as flesh and blood human beings. Not only are corporations more than equal to us because of their wealth and immortality, but they are bound by law to their stockholders to put their own power and profits ahead of every other consideration. They are barred from allowing any conception of the common good to affect their behavior, something that we real people at least take into consideration when we act politically. 
But does the ruling really, as Paul Abrams at the Huffington Post writes, “effectively turn the United States government over to corporations, i.e., back to the Republican Party, this time for keeps”? After all, the voters still decide the outcome, and it’s up to them, up to us, whether to be persuaded by all the corporate propaganda. But let’s face it: More speech is not necessarily a good thing. Kermit Roosevelt argues
Speech is plainly bad for democracy if it …it [works] by repetition rather than persuasion, if it is simply so pervasive that it effectively drowns out competing voices. 
. .…
The [court’s] decision makes sense if you assume that voters have a superhuman ability to resist the effects of pervasive and misleading political advertising. But that assumption is so obviously false that it is hard to believe it played much of a role in the ruling. 
Instead, the justices in the majority seemed to be driven by the sincere fear that elected officials will suppress the vital truths that corporations are trying to tell us. That radical suspicion of government is what this decision comes down to. 
The Supreme Court has told us that we should trust corporations more than our elected officials. …
But although the main current of public discourse is heavily influenced by corporate mass media, you and I can take responsibility for staying in touch with non, and anti-corporate sources of information. Yes Magazine, for example, reports on
The Campaign to Legalize Democracy, a diverse and rapidly growing coalition of individuals and organizations…
Its mission is to amend the U.S. Constitution to end the illegitimate legal doctrines that prevent the American people from governing themselves. First and foremost, the campaign will move to amend that only human beings are entitled to constitutional rights.
And, of course, coming from your radio or computer right now is another source of information and analsysis that is not and never will be paid for by corporate money, namely KBOO. Just as we fight to prevent corporations from dominating our politics, it’s important to keep open those public spaces from which that struggle can be waged. And that’s why we’re asking you today click on the tip jar at the top of this page to support this station and the Old Mole Variety Hour!   And if you have contributed, many thanks.  



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