Monday, February 15, 2010



1. The U.S. Supreme Court on January 21, 2010, in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruled that Corporations and Unions get to spend their money to directly propagandize in order to influence elections up to election day. The decision was made by the right wing majority of Justices Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito.

Comment: The decision is likely to have the practical effect that wealthy corporations will inundate media to persuade voters to vote for their commercial interests and in particular to vote against anyone who dares oppose them, and will do so with all of the fakery and misdirection that they now devote to selling suburban freeway drivers SUVs.
The decision was wrapped in first amendment colors of “free speech.” In a glib concession to influence group that often helps the Democratic party Unions were given the same “free speech” as corporations. However to come to the obviously intended result of greater power of corporations over your lives and government, and probably to channel money to Republican Party interests that stick to the big money interests’ agenda.
To reach the intended agenda the court had to engage in the following Orwellian jumps:
a. Corporations are “persons. Corporations, are of course institutions. State and federal law allows the establishment of corporations, gives them a particular tax status, and provides them with limited liability if they are sued. Their profits are supposed be allocated according to shares. They have a legally prescribed system of governance that distributes power between the shareholders, board of directors, and Chief Executive Officer. They function regardless of changes to the individuals in any of those positions.
Nonetheless in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company, 118 U.S. 394 (1886) a court reporter decided that corporations are “persons” entitled to equal protection. One may search the decision itself in vain for any such holding by the justices, but it is considered precedent.
b. The speech rights of corporations are equal to that of an individual citizen. Reasonably, corporate contracts and corporate property should be guaranteed the protection of due process of law. Neither common sense, nor constitutional law for the last century guarantees the same rights of free speech to an institution created and governed for the sole purpose of making profits. Although a corporation has wide latitude in its business decisions, in the 1916 case of Dodge v. Ford Motor Co., the Court held that a business corporation is organized primarily for the profit of the stockholders, as opposed to the community or its employees. The court in Citizens United hung its argument that Corporations have free speech rights on First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, 435 U.S. 765 (1978), which simply assumed corporate free speech rights with the grand statement: “The inherent worth of the speech in terms of its capacity for informing the public does not depend upon the identity of its source, whether corporation, association, union, or individual.” This grand comment ignores that a corporation’s speech is not an expression of opinion for which any individual takes responsibility. Moreover a corporation might conceivably be sued by its shareholders if “its speech” represented an unsound business decision that hurt its profits. Moreover "commercial speech" generally cannot be so misleading that it constitutes fraud or an unfair business practice. Political speech by a corporation has no such limits.
c. Money is speech, "[R]estriction on the amount of money a person or group can spend on political communication during a campaign,"..."necessarily reduces the quantity of expression by restricting the number of issues discussed, the depth of their exploration, and the size of the audience reached." The court crushes regulation of corporate speech by raising straw arguments, first that restrictions on corporate spending to influence elections would be applied to “media corporations”, (something no law suggests ); and second by adopting the highly dubious view, without evidence, that restricting an avalanche of purchased media would restrict discussion of issues.

d. Regulation of the flow of money into political propaganda is “silencing.” Free speech has generally been limited by content-neutral time place and manner restrictions. The community may limit the amplification of annoying method of free speech so long as it is content neutral and very reasonable to do so. Citizen United opined that laws (though not actually the one at issue) might “ silenc[e] certain voices at any of the various points in the speech process.” “(Government could repress speech by "attacking all levels of the production and dissemination of ideas," for "effective public communication requires the speaker to make use of the services of others"). “...Its purpose and effect are to silence entities whose voices the Government deems to be suspect.” The majority’s rationalization ignores the obvious fact that rich corporate executives can use their own money to speak for themselves, and groups may form PACs to express any collective message, and that ensuring that the available media is not overwhelmed by a single viewpoint may be a legitimate restriction. By demonizing “Government” the decision takes away from representative government the power to reasonably regulate the manner in which corporations may use corporate money to influence elections by overwhelming the media access available to private citizens.

Suggestion: a long overdue constitutional amendment on the order of: “For-profit, limited- liability corporations, are institutions subject to regulation in all respects.”

Prediction: The clear beneficiaries are not a party but the wealthiest of corporations. The losers are all other voices in society. One of the groups that may surprisingly lose as a result will be the “social conservatives” whose hold on the Republican Party is likely to be diminished now that a huge source of dollars is available to bolster the campaigns of those who merely vote in favor of the interests of the corporations, and need not join any other alliances.

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