January 22, 2010

Supreme Court and Campaign Finance

Marc Comtois

The Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission is being extolled or excoriated as the end of McCain/Feingold type campaign finance reform. There are many places to go for extended analysis and I won't even pretend to understand the intricacies of the legal arguments. However, Matt Welch's explanation is the most cogent I've seen:

Free speech really does mean free speech, and the laws that the "Citizens" ruling overturned directly and heinously restricted the stuff. Forget for the moment the broad characterization of the ruling -- such as The New York Times claim that it "sweep[s] aside a century-old understanding" -- and drill down to the individual case in question.

Citizens United, a conservative 501(c)(4) nonprofit that has funded a dozen political documentaries over the years, produced a critical documentary about Hillary Clinton in 2008 entitled "Hillary: The Movie." By a decision of the federal government, which was enforcing the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (known more broadly as McCain-Feingold), this piece of political speech was banned from television.

Let's boil it down to the essential words: Political documentary, banned, government.

You don't have to be a First Amendment purist to intuit that political speech was, if anything, the most urgent subcategory covered by the First Amendment's "Congress shall pass no law" restrictions. And you don't have to be a Hillary-hater to imagine the shoe on the other foot. What if MoveOn.org's 501(c)(4), Campaign to Defend America, had been blocked by George W. Bush's Federal Elections Commission from broadcasting "McCain: The Movie"? Wouldn't that stink, too?

Besides, it's not like there is no money in politics now?

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

I am Robocorp. I am a 14 foot tall, 8 foot wide 12 ton robot. I am also a person. I am about to bring suit against all public places which have entrances and egresses which will not accommodate me. Likewise, all public elevators and bridges must be so constructed or altered so as to accommodate my height, weight, and girth. I have billions of dollars to pay for lawyers and politicians and accommodating judges. I am Robocorp. You are ordered to move over or roll over. I am Robocorp.

Posted by: OldtimeLefty at January 22, 2010 3:02 PM

These problems are inherent in Representative Democracies and will never be solved by campaign contribution laws. Those with the most money and influence will always find ways to use the coercive power of government to accommodate their own interests and eliminate rivals. This is the misconception that progressives have; government is not the friend of the poor and underprivileged, it is the friend of whoever has the votes, money, and power to hijack its terrifying power. Today this may be your friend, tomorrow your worst enemy. The corporate structure and limited liability structure, both constructs of government itself, only compound the problem.

Posted by: Dan at January 22, 2010 3:25 PM

When American colonists declared independence from England in 1776, they also freed themselves from control by English corporations that extracted their wealth and dominated trade. After fighting a revolution to end this exploitation, our country's founders retained a healthy fear of corporate power and wisely limited corporations exclusively to a business role. Corporations were forbidden from attempting to influence elections, public policy, and other realms of civic society.

Initially, the privilege of incorporation was granted selectively to enable activities that benefited the public, such as construction of roads or canals. Enabling shareholders to profit was seen as a means to that end.

The states also imposed conditions (some of which remain on the books, though unused) like these:

* Corporate charters (licenses to exist) were granted for a limited time and could be revoked promptly for violating laws.

* Corporations could engage only in activities necessary to fulfill their chartered purpose.

* Corporations could not own stock in other corporations nor own any property that was not essential to fulfilling their chartered purpose.

* Corporations were often terminated if they exceeded their authority or caused public harm.

* Owners and managers were responsible for criminal acts committed on the job.

* Corporations could not spend money to influence law-making

Posted by: Scott Ahren at January 22, 2010 4:50 PM

Dan is correct. These problems are inherent in a representative democracy. They would also be inherent in ANY free society including pure democracies.

What OTL refuses to acknowledge is that his "Robocorp" can also be the government. Really, it can and has happened. There have been examples of governments telling its people to move or roll over.

The view that big government is always good & big business is always bad is simply false.

Posted by: msteven at January 22, 2010 5:17 PM

What is the difference between corporations spending money on political speech and unions spending money on political speech?

Which is worse: a business buying advertising time or ACORN paying someone to vote fraudulently?

If people are so stupid as to be swayed by how much they see a particular message in the media that they cannot be trusted to form their opinions about that message, is there any hope for the future of our society?

If the persistent repeating of a particular message is so persuasive, then why does a majority of Americans oppose the government's plan to take over the medical industry?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Posted by: BobN at January 22, 2010 5:22 PM

In all the analysis, one point needs to be made that hasn't been:
With corporations now entitled to spend as much as they want to elect or unseat political candidates, money that may otherwise have been spent on job creation will be blown on political activity.
Thank you, U.S. Supreme Court majority, for doing your part to keep our economy in the toilet.

Posted by: rhody at January 23, 2010 1:25 AM

Justice Stevens is making retirement noises,and Ginsburg is seriously ill-no one survives pancreas cancer for very long.
The replacements for them are very significant,because they will be much younger,and while the "liberal/conservative"balance on the Court will remain the same,it is essential that the Republicans and maybe even some Democrats have a chance to prevent the appointment of people who make Sotomayor look like Rush Limbaugh.I'm thinking of Cass Sunstein(although with his aim of outlawing hunting,the western Dems would as soon walk into traffic as support him);Harold Koh,who wants the US subject to international law in our internal affairs;and Elena Kagan,who barred the military from Harvard.
Obama has to be forced to appoint someone reasonable-a conservative is out of the question,but he has to be made to realize that so is a radical.
This is the real significance of Coakley's defeat.
Bob Kerr was whining in his column-it was fun to read.It's evry enlightening to read and hear the vicious comments from the left-their true character shows.They try to make it sound like conservatives own hateful speech.They are the masters of it.

Posted by: joe bernstein at January 23, 2010 6:11 AM

Rhody, why do you presume that money not spent on political advertising would necessarily go to hiring more employees? There seems to be a logical disconnect there.

For example, if the corporation runs ads to oppose a bill that would destroy its business or would codify favoritism for a competitor, and therefore hurt all of its employees, would not that advertising "create or save jobs" compared to the alternative?

Posted by: BobN at January 23, 2010 9:31 AM

Because corporations have proven time and time again they can't be trusted to do the right thing. Look at the companies that pocket tax breaks which were designed as incentive to create jobs.
The high court just licensed rampant corporate responsibility. We have enough corporate whores among our public officials in both parties, thank you very much.

Posted by: rhody at January 23, 2010 4:13 PM

We sure have enough whores for the NEA in our state legislature.

Posted by: joe bernstein at January 24, 2010 5:23 AM

Rhody, are you saying that government CAN always be trusted to do the right thing? Because your argument only holds at all if that claim is true.

As to your example, my position is that "tax breaks", being inherently unequal treatment under the law, are not a legitimate function of government.

Posted by: BobN at January 24, 2010 10:14 AM

Rhody is mentally convulsing like a sprayed roach.Hey Rhody-hahahaha

Posted by: joe bernstein at January 24, 2010 5:39 PM

Would you rather we were an oligarchy like Russia instead of a democracy? I realize how inconvenient democracy became for some people on Nov. 4, 2008.
This decision is a bigger job killer than any single politician. The branch of government we trust to keep the game fair just failed us big-time.

Posted by: rhody at January 24, 2010 8:33 PM

I can't believe how Rhody gets his talking points-check out Nancy Green's entries at Kmareka wringing her hands over this decision."Oligarchy" comes up there also.The politburo of the left must have made that the catchphtase of the week.
I wasn't too informed about this decision,but when I see all the complaints coming from RIF,Kmareka,the NY Times,and MSNBC pundits,then I know it was a good decision.
11/4/2008 was inconvenient,it was a wake-up call as to what the left is really trying to do-destroy traditional America in the cause of internationalism.

Posted by: joe bernstein at January 25, 2010 2:25 AM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Important note: The text "http:" cannot appear anywhere in your comment.