The Citizens United majority never explained why any corporation without a press function warrants the same free speech rights as a person. Neither did Justice Alito. Meanwhile, the false equivalence of money and speech put forward by Citizens United and the money it unleashed is wreaking havoc in our politics.
From New York Times editorial — Last week, Justice Samuel Alito Jr. speciously defended the Supreme Court’s disastrous ruling in the 2010 Citizens United case by arguing that the ruling, which allowed unlimited independent campaign spending by corporations and unions, was not really groundbreaking at all. In fact, he said, all it did was reaffirm that corporations have free speech rights and that, without such rights, newspapers would have lost the major press freedom rulings that allowed the publication of the Pentagon Papers and made it easier for newspapers to defend themselves against libel suits in New York Times v. Sullivan.
“The question is whether speech that goes to the very heart of government should be limited to certain preferred corporations; namely, media corporations,” he said in a speech to the Federalist Society, a conservative group. “Surely the idea that the First Amendment protects only certain privileged voices should be disturbing to anybody who believes in free speech.”
But Justice Alito’s argument wrongly confuses the matter. It is not the corporate structure of media companies that makes them deserving of constitutional protection. It is their function — the vital role that the press plays in American democracy — that sets them apart. In Citizens United, by a 5-to-4 vote, the court ruled that the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, in limiting the amount that organizations could spend, severely restricted First Amendment rights. The law’s purpose and effect, according to the court, was to keep unions and most corporations from conveying facts and opinions to the public, though it exempted media corporations.
But the majority got that backward. The point of the law was to protect the news media’s freedom of speech and not the legal form that they happened to be organized under. While corporations make enormous contributions to society, they “are not actually members of it,” Justice John Paul Stevens said in his dissent. When the framers “constitutionalized the right to free speech in the First Amendment, it was the free speech of individual Americans that they had in mind,” he noted, not that of corporations.
In New York Times v. Sullivan, in which the First Amendment was used to rein in the law of libel, the Supreme Court focused on the “profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open.” It made almost no mention of the fact that The Times was a corporation. Nor were the free speech rights of a corporation any part of the ruling in the Pentagon Papers case.
The Citizens United majority never explained why any corporation that does not have a press function warrants the same free speech rights as a person. Neither did Justice Alito. Meanwhile, the false equivalence of money and speech put forward by Citizens United and the money it unleashed is wreaking havoc in our politics.
FROM: Justice Alito, Citizens United and the Press – NYTimes.com (11/19/2012) – http://nyti.ms/Se3DOp
When Republicans were attacking limits on soft-money political donations that finally passed Congress in 2002, they insisted that there was no reason to restrict how much individuals or corporations could give. Only one thing was necessary: full disclosure.
Let the public know who was giving all that cash and who was getting it, and the corrupting influence would be washed away. A decade ago, there was overwhelming bipartisan support for full disclosure of campaign donations.
Editorial: Big-money campaign donations should not be kept secret | http://www.palmbeachpost.com – http://goo.gl/BL1V4
When Americans spend millions on yogurt, they get yogurt.
What do billionaires get when they throw fortunes at a favored political candidate?
—Editorial, Metrowest Daily News (July 2012
EDITORIAL FROM SOUTHCOST TODAY
One town at a time, citizens are uniting against Citizens United.
Voters at Westport’s annual Town Meeting earlier this month passed Article 49 (see below), authorizing the town to petition Congress to amend the U.S. Constitution to affirm that the rights “protected by this Constitution to be the rights of natural persons.”
In other words, the Supreme Court decision of 2010 on Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission striking down part of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act — and affirming that corporations and unions are people — would be unconstitutional.
The central issue for both the reform act and Citizens United is political speech and how it’s financed and disseminated.
Be sure to open up your Needham Times today–it features a letter to the editor from Article 23 author Stacie Shapiro, and an op-ed by Jim Miara about the Town Meeting vote, “Citizens United” and community engagement. We will be sure to post links to these when they are available online!
When an overwhelming majority of Americans–regardless of their political leanings–in poll after poll show that they are sick of the campaign funding system we have, suspicious of the government it creates, critical of the ‘Citizens United’ ruling, and supportive of a Constitutional Amendment to start to fix all of this…
Town Meeting’s upcoming vote on Article 23 is about the most un-controversial action we can take!
Though the policies and the legalese can become complex, at the end of the day, the issue is simple: corporations–economic entities with a legalistic ‘personhood’ structure–are not people, and are not protected by the Bill of Rights.
When the highest bidder can buy our elections, your single vote counts less and less. Our ability to decide what we want for our town–our local control of our priorities and values–is undermined at the very foundation.
Our forefathers left England to escape a system where the aristocracy controlled everyone’s fates. But we have allowed that same scenario to be recreated in our campaign financing system, and Citizens United just made it worse.
The politicians who are now enslaved to the corrupting system cannot be relied on to advance the changes we need. It has to start with the People.
Let’s do this!
See you Monday.
This effort to stifle Town Meetings enraged the Towns,
and lit the fuse of the American Revolution.
When our 2012 Annual Town Meeting convenes on May 7th next, it will find an unusual article on its warrant, inserted by the Selectmen on a citizens’ petition under state law.
Warrant Article 23 calls upon the Town Meeting to support an amendment to the United States Constitution which would overturn a decision of the United States Supreme Court relative to corporate and union spending on elections. It would also petition our State Legislature to endorse such a constitutional amendment.
The citizens’ petition addresses the rights of “persons” under the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments of our Federal Constitution, as interpreted by opinions of the United States Supreme Court over nearly two centuries. It concerns basic rights of all Americans, including residents of Needham, and of the town itself.
In this essay, I do not debate the citizen petition. Instead, I address only (a) whether the subject matter of the petition is properly before our Town Meeting, and (b) whether Town Meeting has the power to deal with it. Constitutionally-speaking, the fundamental challenge has to do with the right of individuals, whether alone or in groups, to petition the Congress, their state Legislature and other governmental authorities for redress of their grievances.
A constitutional amendment of some kind or another is thus necessary to address campaign finance reform and allow the Republican Party to elect conservatives to national office.
…The need to pass such an amendment is more than a left or right-wing issue–
both Democrats and Republicans are too cozy with big money and special interests.
Should politicians be accountable to their constituents and communicate honest principles, or to shady billionaires of varying political stripes?: corporations, church groups, and labor unions, as well as Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Agriculture, the health insurance industry, the education privatization industry, the NRA, the military industrial complex, and various environmental groups, flooding the airwaves with commercials that distort their opponents’ records or grossly oversimplify the issues.
The current system of campaign finance has so weakened the ability of the Republican Party to elect conservatives to political office that perhaps a more radical approach to a constitutional amendment regarding this issue is necessary. If the Republican Party wishes to elect conservatives in all parts of the country, not just in “red states” or rural areas, a constitutional amendment that empowers the FCC to prohibit the broadcasting of political commercials on television and on radio must be passed.
—To elect Conservatives, the GOP needs Campaign Finance Reform
As president of the Union College Republicans, I’m proud to put forward a right-wing argument for the necessity of this type of reform. First, disclosure of funds should be a fundamental part of fostering an open democratic process. Second, labor unions remain a larger part of the problem than even corporations.
For the better part of the decade, it was the Republican Party who led the charge to provide full disclosure of campaign donations.
Even during the 2012 primary campaign, candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have expressed mixed feelings about the role of super PACs, campaign fundraisers that are separate from candidates’ personal organizations, stating that the superPACs limit the control they have over their own campaigns.
–Nick D’Angelo, “A Conservative Case for Campaign Finance Reform“