Court decision hurts individuals
“The Government may regulate corporate political speech through disclaimer and disclosure requirements, but it may not suppress that speech altogether.”
This statement, delivered by Justice Anthony Kennedy, supported the majority opinion of the Supreme Court in the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
The decision will allow corporations to spend unlimited sums of money on political advertisements.
Oddly enough, the case was brought about because of the film Hillary: The Movie, which the Washington, D.C. District Court had already ruled “susceptible of no other interpretation than to inform the electorate that Senator Clinton is unfit for office, that the United States would be a dangerous place in a President Hillary Clinton world, and that viewers should vote against her,” in an April 3, 2008 decision.
This ruling does not mean corporations are allowed to contribute unlimited amounts of money to a single candidate’s campaign; that cap is still in place.
What the decision means is that corporations are now allowed to spend whatever they want on “electioneering communication.”
This term is defined, according to a 2007 decision by the Supreme Court in Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc., as advertising that is “susceptible of no reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate.”
Many people have been wondering how this is different from direct campaign financing.
Disclosure rules still apply to broadcast political advocacy in lieu of more comprehensive speech regulations, but now the Court has decided that “First Amendment protections do not depend on the speaker’s ‘financial ability to engage in public discussion.’”
It seems that the Court’s opinion is rooted in the understanding that freedom of speech is somehow being obstructed and that corporations are entities, like individuals, and have the same rights under the Constitution.
Yet, the reality of the situation is that corporations may say and do as they wish within the bounds of the law.
In the case of Hillary, the film, as stated by the Court, “is a feature-length negative advertisement that urges viewers to vote against Senator Clinton for President.”
Furthermore, there is no ban on the freedom of corporate speech.
Corporations are allowed numerous channels of communication with the public, including advertizing through virtually every medium, funding of their own political action committees, fundraising for political candidates (with limits) and public endorsements.
As Justice John Stevens said, the media is an exception to these corporate limitations “in recognition of the unique role played by the institutional press in sustaining public debate.”
In the Court’s decision, the majority opinion also said, “It is irrelevant for First Amendment purposes that corporate funds may ‘have little or no correlation to the public’s support for the corporation’s political ideas,’” despite the international nature of these businesses.
The Court has opened a window to allow the opinions of international shareholders to influence the process of American government, in which they have no right or privilege to do so.
Stevens, in dissenting with the Court’s opinion, said “the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of … a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding.”
It is not right to allow a multibillion-dollar, international corporation the power to push its own agenda on so many people, thus potentially subverting the opinions of individuals.
Corporations can be seen as giant factions, and as James Madison said in The Federalist No. 10, “Among the numerous advantages promised by a well constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of (a) faction.”
The possibility of corporations creating their own collective oligarchy is now out there, and we will see if that is their plan in the coming mid-term elections.
Michael Padon is a computer engineering sophomore and may be reached at [email protected]