Thursday, January 21, 2010

Money Talks

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

That's the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution boys and girls.

I'll need to keep this brief because it's late and I have other things to do.

Freedom of speech in this country has been defined to relate most significantly to political speech by persons. Since we are a representative republic, supporting a political candidate or officeholder is a substitute for one's own political speech. Therefore, donating money to a politician of one's choice has also been determined to be protected speech. In short, cash equals speech. At least one pundit criticized that conclusion by suggesting that by that logic, bribery should then be protected. But that is patently absurd because bribery is direct corruption which takes place out of sight behind closed doors. Like lobbying.

You got something to say, someone to support, someone you want to give money to? Fine thing Mr. America, declare it to the whole country out loud and in round figures.

Here's the thing though - long ago, for reasons that are not entirely consistent with the usual methods of interpreting law, corporations were defined as persons under the constitution. Ever since politicians have attempted to control or limit how and how much cash is used by corporations in the political process. Today the Supreme Court declared all such methods invalid. In other words, as the 1st amendment states, NO MEANS NO. Congress can't limit what a person (in this case, a corporate person) spends to support a candidate for political office.

This sounds horrible and commentators are already decrying the latest smash to the foundations of the country. They may be right about the end result, but in typical fashion, for the wrong reasons. This decision, under current constitutional interpretations, is completely correct. The problem isn't that corps are now allowed to throw millions (maybe for Exxon, billions) into a political campaign. The problem is that they can do so because they are considered persons under the law. Corporations are therefore entitled to all rights of persons. Isn't that absurd??

If you want the stranglehold of big business and the corrupting effects it has on governance to go away, don't whine about this particular decision - it is actually good that this situation is not parsed out as an exception which will only muddy the legal waters when some other little distinction needs to be made - focus on the cause of the problem. The cause here is that something not alive, yet which may theoretically never die, has all the rights and privileges of the living.



Pudgy McCabe said...

Agreed with you in substance here--a correct and necessary judicial decision, whatever we may think of the underlying situation or short-term consequences.

Gravitar Profundus said...

wow! we truly are nearing the end times. Thanks Pudge

Anonymous said...

Very well said. I totally agree that this issue is more about the absurd notion that corporations deserve the same constitutional protections as natural/living persons is absurd.

(I wrote an opinion piece about this issue back in September:

However, I just think that something about giving money feels more like a matter of commerce to me and not so much expression. I would think voting is the real expression. We regulate all other areas where money is exchanged, why not regulate this area? Anyway, I think it's definitely a debatable issue.

Anonymous said...

*the notion is doubly absurd apparently ;)

Michelle Haberland said...

Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company, that late-19th century decision which resulted in the "corporations are people, too" concept truly belongs in the "defies logic" category of Supreme Court actions really and truly needs to be overturned. The irony is that today's Supreme Court decided it needed to consider larger issues than the attorneys in the case intended. So, they went further, but then decided to leave the "corporations are people, too" argument stand? Talk about absurd.

Here's what we need to do now. Get rid of the money in campaigns. Period. Give the candidates the exact same amount of money for advertising and make a rule that forces the amount of TV time to be perfectly equal.

But that would require the big-money-lovin' politicians to give up their crack -- oops, I mean, big money addictions. And that just ain't gonna happen.

So, we're left with a big ole FOR SALE sign on the front lawn of the White House.

kbud said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kbud said...

bottom line - not only does the fox have the keys to the hen house, but we insist on keeping the door open.