Citizens United v. FEC: Freedom of Speech v. Unfair Influence

The Supreme Court last week struck down some 70 years of legal precedent concerning the ability of corporations to spend their discretionary money in support of a political candidate within a certain time frame of an election. Many liberals are beside themselves with concern over this decision saying that, to paraphrase Senator Chuck Schumer, the winners of the upcoming election will not be Democrats and will not be Republicans but will be corporations.

I read enough of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion to believe that the opposition to this opinion is much ado about nothing and in fact represents an odd inconsistency with liberal belief. The opinion comes down on the side of freedom of speech (the First Amendment), which we liberals hold almost more dear than anything else in our platform.

But first, we need a reality check. Before this opinion was issued by the Court, Congress was already bought and sold by lobbyists and big business. Who are we fooling here? On one level the Court’s decision simply makes the law reflect reality.

Even if we get beyond the cold reality of how things really work, the opinion stands on its own logically. When a company contributes to a political campaign, there is an implicit quid-pro-quo relationship established. The candidate has solicited the donation and the company has made the donation. This establishes a potential obligation between one party and the other. That is why there are limits to campaign contributions. This was not changed by the Citizens United decision.

However when a company freely spends its money in support of a candidate via commercials, films, etc. when the candidate has not solicited such support, no quid-pro-quo relationship is established. In this case, the company (for profit or non-profit corporation) is freely exercising its Constitutionally guaranteed right to express its opinion. This is the very essence of freedom of speech. There are those who say that corporations are not “people” and should not enjoy first amendment protection. I argue that corporations represent the will of people, either their board of directors, their shareholders or their executive team. Corporations are not aliens. They are human inventions influenced by the humans who run them.

Again, we need to step back a moment to the reality prior to this ruling. It has been correctly noted by some commentators that General Electric owns MSNBC and therefore pays the salaries of Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, both of whom reserve the right to express their opinion about a candidate right up to the moment that he or she wins or loses the race. In fact, in the case of Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Keith Olbermann went right on expressing his opinion after Brown won the race. By the current liberal sky-is-falling reasoning, didn’t General Electric have unfair influence prior to this ruling?

While I understand the concerns about corporations gaining even more influence via this decision, I think that risk pales in comparison to the slippery slope that we find ourselves on when we restrict the speech of one entity whom we distrust. Who gets censored next? This was the inevitable conclusion that the Court had to make.  When you restrict the speech of any of us, you risk restricting the speech of us all and you compromise the most fundamental principle upon which our country is built.

Respectfully,
Rutherford

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14 thoughts on “Citizens United v. FEC: Freedom of Speech v. Unfair Influence

  1. The decision is on my stack of reading for sometime this week.

    I did enjoy hearing my fellow Washingtonians call into the local talk show as I drove home and express the opinion that if a Corporation spends x amount of money expressing an opinion about at candidate, that candidate should automatically have access to the same amount of taxpayer dollars in order to answer “the lies put forth by the corporation.”

    Huh?

    Kind of the same feeling I got when I read this above:

    I read enough of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion to believe that the opposition to this opinion is much ado about nothing and in fact represents an odd inconsistency with liberal belief. The opinion comes down on the side of freedom of speech (the First Amendment), which we liberals hold almost more dear than anything else in our platform.

    Really? ‘Cause its usually the liberals I hear screaming the loudest about infringing on other people’s freedom of speech, be they “Obama Truth Squads” in Missouri, or Ariana Huffington opining that Glenn Beck’s freedom of speech must be curtailed, just to name two examples.

    I think that liberals’ real issue with this is that they think people are stupid, and that if enough money is spent advocating a certain issue, candidate, or point, then the American People are too stupid to ferret out when something is good for the advocator and not them. I can understand this, BTW, given the fact that the Press so utterly failed to be objective and do their job vetting Obama in the campaign, and is only starting to wake up to the fact that he ain’t all that and a bag of chips. However, what I have seen in the last 11 months restores my faith in the ability of the American Citizen to suss out the wheat from the chaff and act accordingly, so I think that the influence of increased corporate spending will still have only a negligible effect inspite of the fact that the Press has sbdicated its duty in informing rather than converting the populace.

  2. Rutherford since I am more than willing to attack your posts that imo are crazy wrong I owe you this.
    This post is actually very good on many levels. Clap clap clap. I’d love to see if your leftist friends share your position.

  3. Rutherford, good article except this:

    The opinion comes down on the side of freedom of speech (the First Amendment), which we liberals hold almost more dear than anything else in our platform.

    One of my biggest peeves with liberalism is that I believe liberalism only supports freedom of speech when it is politically convenient and agrees with “progressive” opinion. There are exceptions and you are one as you prove here, but I don’t find your belief typical. Three examples to prove my point:

    (1) Hate speech – by the liberal definition of hate speech, of course; i.e. – homosexuality and the attempt by many liberals to privatize or tax churches. Ask the Mormon Church if homosexuals in California have believed in free speech.

    (2) Obama war vs. Fox News – more specifically against Glenn Beck and John Gibson and the coerced threat of boycotting sponsors which you have supported in the past; in addition, how many liberals have done all in their power to shut up Rush Limbaugh – the pussified NFL caved when Rush Limbaugh attempted to be a minority owner but had no problem with Keef Ogremann broadcasting NFL commentary. And their real reasoning – afraid of offending the black community.

    (3) The proposal and continual push for the Fairness Doctrine Act – a blatant attempt at curtailing free speech; when you can’t beat them, shut them down.

  4. Thank you Alfie. On my internet radio show Saturday night, I explained my above reasoning and my co-host (a self professed “knee jerk liberal”) controlled herself from jumping down my throat. But she definitely disagreed. (LOL not as much as she disagreed with my prescription for Obama’s health care plan, but that’s a whole different story).

    BiW I believe you are confusing free speech with the consequences of free speech. Glenn Beck has every right to say whatever he wants on the airwaves and the folks who hear what he has to say have every right to react to his words.

    The First Amendment gives Howard Stern the right to call members of a women’s basketball team, “nappy headed ho’s” but it does not protect him from being suspended or fired for such speech.

    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.

    This protects speech from government restriction, not from the restriction of the free market.

  5. BiW I believe you are confusing free speech with the consequences of free speech. Glenn Beck has every right to say whatever he wants on the airwaves and the folks who hear what he has to say have every right to react to his words.

    I confuse nothing. Huffington was actually proposing that Beck’s right to free speech be curtailed, not that she merely disagreed with the things he says. She said it. She meant it. And it is only one example. Tex raised some other good examples. You may believe it, R.. Your commerades don’t.

    The First Amendment gives Howard Stern the right to call members of a women’s basketball team, “nappy headed ho’s” but it does not protect him from being suspended or fired for such speech.

    Or maybe Don Imus…the guy who actually said it. Someone who I used to enjoy until he made the apology tour and kissed the Wrong Reverend Sharptongue’s ring as part of his public mea culpas.

    This protects speech from government restriction, not from the restriction of the free market.

    Thank you, R. I’m pretty sure I knew that before I earned the B.A. in Politcal Science, or the two law degrees. Are you sure you aren’t confusing what I said with Tex’s remarks about boycotts? Not that it matters, because it still represents an attempt, albeit a hamfisted, lame one, to force other people to change what they are doing in order to stop them from saying things you don’t like, which is where the left and conservatives have fundamentally different approaches.

    The left says “I don’t like what you are saying. It’s RAAAAAACCIST!!!! (when it it no such thing), or “immoral” (which is always amusing coming from a leftist), or the some variation of stupid (see Palin, Sarah), evil, greedy, blah blah blah, almost always uttered with the intent to make the speaker stop talking.

    The right will say “What you just said is incredibly stupid. Who reminds you to breathe?” and then will actually offer facts and logic to back what they say.

    You are a liberal anomaly, R. Most of the time you’ll at least make an attempt to defend what you say, even though your worldview causes you to get it horribly wrong sometimes. I can respect that. Your fellow travelers? Notsomuch.

  6. Or maybe Don Imus…the guy who actually said it.

    So true …. a slip on my part. Thanks for the correction.

    I earned the B.A. in Politcal Science, or the two law degrees.

    Oh puhleeeeze. If you look at the prior article’s thread where this topic was introduced you’ll notice I was interested in your opinion based on your background. (I also said as much on your own blog.) So I don’t need a reminder of your qualifications.

    That being said, IMHO, you seamlessly transition from legal analysis to whining. Boycotts, or anything else Arianna Huffington might call for, do not represent the government restricting speech.

    Better examples might be the Fairness Doctrine (as Tex said) or even the equal time requirements which I believe are enforced by the FCC. Even in these cases the stated goal is not to curtail free speech but expand the opportunity for free speech to people of opposing views.

  7. That being said, IMHO, you seamlessly transition from legal analysis to whining. Boycotts, or anything else Arianna Huffington might call for, do not represent the government restricting speech.

    No, but her “there outta be a law” prattling is one example of how many lefties have no problem with the government curtailing those rights for some, which was my point, as was the reference to the “Obama Truth Squads” which strikes me the same way as “Rock Against Drugs”, or “Christians Against Christ”, but I digress.

    Better examples might be the Fairness Doctrine (as Tex said) or even the equal time requirements which I believe are enforced by the FCC. Even in these cases the stated goal is not to curtail free speech but expand the opportunity for free speech to people of opposing views.

    But the “stated” goal of the Fairness Doctrine is different than the intended goal. How do I know? Because anyone with a computer can print a newsletter, broadcast a radio show, upload videos, or write a blog. We are no longer limited to three networks with a handful of independent channels. Any idiot can get a cable access show. The average person has never had more access to publish or broadcast an opposing view. What it is about is targeting sucessful producers of nationwide syndicated content whom liberal voices cannot compete with in a marketplace of ideas, and forgetting that broadcast media like radio and televisions are businesses first and foremost. “Local” content is inexpensive, but that doesn’t help the bottom line if no one wants to listen. Shows like Rush’s program are very expensive. They have to be for him to make the money he does. But they are still profitable because people want to listen. And there are plety of opposing views broadcast daily. I have to look no further than ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSDNC, and others. You want it in print? You can pick up rags like Mother Jones, or go for the more nuanced and subtle versions in Time, Newsweak, or most major newspapers. Its all there, and that’s why that argue doesn’t hold water.

  8. Maybe I missed it in your post, but I didn’t see anything about the union piece. They, like corporations, were ruled to have free speech as well. So to those on the left who bemoan this ruling, the advertising limits have been removed from your biggest thugs, I mean advocates, and most often visitors to the White House (or as the t-shirt I saw just yesterday said, the Black House).

    I don’t know if anyone else has been involved in a campaign or not, but one thing I did notice was this- the unions are not interested bystanders interersted in voicing their opinions. No, every pice of literature that came from the Dem in our race was bought and paid for, was processed and delivered by the union. Not just one, but a whole host of them.

    The SEIU boss is at the White, or whatever it is now, more than any other organization. In that atrocity the left calls healthcare reform, the unions are exempt. That’s right, while 90% of the work force will have to pay taxes (funny how the One blasted McCain for the idea of taxing healthcare, now he’s all for it) on their healthcare, the union is exempt.

    Yes R, free speech is grand nd this is indeed a good ruling, but in reality, it only levels the playing field. Really, need we mention the 527’s? George Soros, who essentially bankrolls MoveOn.org, can spend what ever he likes, and has been.

  9. Maybe I missed it in your post, but I didn’t see anything about the union piece.

    G, you make a good point (barring some of the abusive anti-union rhetoric). I think Libs are in a particularly peculiar spot on this one and I do find their stance somewhat hypocritical.

  10. BiW to summarize your last comment … I would agree that the democratization of communication provided by the web (including blogs and internet radio and YouTube) makes the equal access gripes of ANY group a bit suspect nowadays. It’s an argument that probably worked better in a time when access was not readily available.

    I do find it a curiosity (although I know you don’t) that libs have had so much trouble penetrating AM radio audiences. For some reason, it’s the bastion mostly of conservatives and I am really puzzled why. I think libs are just as able to be outrageous and entertaining as cons.

  11. I think libs are just as able to be outrageous and entertaining as cons.

    Outrageous? Most definitely. Entertaining and still newsworthy and educated? Hardly. I think this has been already proven time and again.

    Hollywood is entertaining (sometimes) but completely uniformed. Your side simply doesn’ have the same total package of a Rush Limbaugh, for example. You don’t have anyone even remotely close.

  12. I do find it a curiosity (although I know you don’t) that libs have had so much trouble penetrating AM radio audiences. For some reason, it’s the bastion mostly of conservatives and I am really puzzled why. I think libs are just as able to be outrageous and entertaining as cons.

    Because to become engaged in the ‘Theatre of the Mind” presupposes actually having one first.

    Besides, many leftists I know are also lazy (which is why their all for living off of other people’s earnings) and when they get their daily talking points from all other media, why would they bother with radio? It would cut into the time in which they get their daily dose of “OOOOOHHHHHH BABY BABY” nonsense.

  13. I would agree that the democratization of communication provided by the web (including blogs and internet radio and YouTube) makes the equal access gripes of ANY group a bit suspect nowadays. It’s an argument that probably worked better in a time when access was not readily available.

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