Good News for Free Speech

Until today, we had the right to free speech, and the right to assembly, but not the right to free speech when we were assembled.  The Supreme Court has thankfully corrected that absurdity.  Quick roundup:  Jonathon Adler, John Stossel, Katherine Mangu-WardJD Tuccille, Jacob Sullum

  • Dan

    Great - as if corporate money weren't already prevalent enough in politics, now the Supreme Court has to give companies even more power. Corporate speech is not the same as free speech for you and me. A corporation is not a person. Please don't confuse these points. This is not a "victory for free speech," as you say. It is another victory for the richest and most powerful in this country.

  • KTWO

    I was amazed when McCain-Fxx and several other campaign finance laws were upheld for years. The concept seemed clearly unconstitutional even in outline.

    But I never go around to studying the cases which challenged it. And I see that four justices dissented today. w/o looking I know three of them. And three in the majority.

    The ruling will not improve politics. I don't expect that. It may make matters far worse. But the 1st says "Congress shall make no law........" and I think that means no law.

    An amendment is the way to proceed. And composing a wise one won't be easy.

  • Keith

    Dan, I'm curious. Are you equally incensed that, as a result of this ruling, unions can now fund issue ads in the final days of an election?

  • Greg

    So are libertarians for or against corporate personhood?

    On the one hand, I understand the argument that individual citizens should not give up their rights simply because they join a church or a business. I agree that if if a church is subject to an improper search and seizure, it is as if each individual was subject to an improper search and seizure.

    But on the other hand, don't corporations also make it difficult for each individual to take full responsibility for the actions of that corporation? Furthermore, don't certain corporations (especially the business kind) tend to grow in size relative both to other corporations and individuals, facilitating actions they might otherwise not perform because the risk of doing (their personal responsibility, if you will) is reduced simply because of a larger relative resource base?

  • Mesa Econoguy

    I am against all speech, especially Morse code, which insects use. Usually on Tuesday.

  • DKH

    What amazed me was that four justices voted to uphold the law. Completely unconscionable.

  • http://www.popehat.com Ken

    Corporations -- like other entities -- are merely instruments through which flesh-and-blood people interact.

    Don't think that corporations should have free speech rights? Then tell me -- why shouldn't the Bush Administration be able to fine the New York Times Company if it doesn't like the content of the editorial page? Or why shouldn't the Obama administration be able to punish Fox Corporation?

  • http://hertzlinger.blogspot.com Joseph Hertzlinger

    Corporations aren't persons because corporations don't really exist. The people who own or run them do exist and their free-speech rights have been upheld.

  • rxc

    Dan,

    I don't understand why the New York Times Corporation and the Washington Post Corporation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting all have free speech/press rights, while Ford Motors, Microsoft, and the United Steel Workers Union do not. Can you explain this to me? If it is a matter of owning a printing press, then can Microsoft just buy a press and become a member of the club, or is this really some sort of "inheritable right" that no one can just buy into?

  • Greg

    The exception granted for news agencies in the McCain-Feingold bill is much more than " simply a matter of legislative grace", as Alito believes. it follows a long American tradition that believes the flow of information in a democracy is critical to an informed citizenry, and the fourth estate plays an important role in that.

    It is in the interest of the press to get information out quickly and accurately, and this interest coincides nicely with society's need for information. This is why a free press is protected, with limitations. Or at least that's the ideal. Today the press seems to be spreading increasing amounts of drivel. And now the interests of powerful corporations will twist the knowledge of individual citizens to their interests, whatever they might be.

    I know all this talk about society's best interest is an anathema to American libertarians, who pretty much think society is nothing more than a collection of entitled little atoms.

    (although this is the same court that decided that a television news organization was just exercising free speech when it decided to air a falsified story in order to benefit a sponsor).

  • Dan

    I think Greg makes the best argument here, and says it far better than I could have, so I will not go into any more depth on my position here.

    However, as for unions, which one poster asked me about, I'm curious why he thinks I automatically am for the power of unions to influence elections with their money and against corporations doing the same thing. I am against having big unions or big corporations influence elections and politicians with their dollars. It's all the same to me. Either is just as bad.

  • Keith

    Dan, I didn't assume you were for the ability of unions to influence elections. I merely wanted to understand your position. Hence my question.

    I am much more in agreement with rxc. Along the same lines as his argument, if a large corporation (GE comes to mind) decides to buy a news organization, they can use that news outlet's editorials to say whatever they like about issues. It seems ridiculous that only large companies who can buy news organizations can broadcast issue positions late in an election cycle.

    Personally, I would like to see election finance laws which permitted any candidate to raise and spend as much money as they wanted from any source they liked, with one caveat: they had to post online the original source (no "shell" organizations allowed!) of the funds before they were allowed to spend them. It would then be your job as a voter to decide whether a candidate was tainted by funding you found unsavory enough to lose your vote.

  • Reformed Republican

    The easy solution for getting business money out of politics is to get politics out of business. If the government is not picking winners and losers, the corporations have no incentive to spend money buying government officials.

  • JBurns

    A simple way to look at it:

    Politicians have an unfettered right to stand up and proclaim how evil various corporations are, and media gives them a forum to do so. Now corporations have the right to stand up and proclaim how evil the politicians are. Seems fair to me.

  • morganovich

    fear that the issue is that once you start telling people what they can and can’t pay to say publicly, the knock on effects are worse than the problem. you substantially abridge free speech and it flows through to other areas. such a cure is worse than the disease, especially as, in politics, it just warps the structure of advocacy groups that just mutate into PACs or whatever.

    it’s also worth noting that just because a company or a union wants something doesn’t inherently make it wrong.

    trying to stop political speech is like trying to stop drugs. you can’t do it from the supply side. there is too much incentive.

    the only way to get it under control is to pay much more attention to the donor lists and make it a public issue when politicians are compromised. it was incredibly obvious that freddy and fannie had bought dodd and frank and others. the data was all there and was even published well in advance.

    the problem is that no one cared.

    everyone just sort of looked at it and said, “yeah well, what are you gonna do?”

    if there are no consequences for being a dirtbag, then dirtbags will flourish in DC.

    greg-

    i think you leave an important aspect out of your thinking on the media. the media are owned by corporations. corporations and networks have viewpoints and agendas. they favor and endorse candidates.

    you are arguing for the preferencing of some corporations over others and trotting out the tied old chestnut that the media ia out for the public good. they aren't. they are businesses.

    if haliburton bought ABC and used it as a platform to argue for drilling and reduced oil taxes, you's cry foul, but what about NBC taking a stance in favor of global warming and cap and trade to favor GE, its parent company.

    the distinction between media and other corporations that you draw is utterly illusory.

    free speech either applies to all or to none.

  • Not Sure

    "The easy solution for getting business money out of politics is to get politics out of business. If the government is not picking winners and losers, the corporations have no incentive to spend money buying government officials." - Reformed Republican

    Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner.

    As long as politicians have trillions of dollars of porkulus to hand out to those they favor and punitive regluations for those they don't, there will be attempts to stay on the politicians' good side by buying the favor necessary to gain access to that pork.

    No way around it.

  • Dan

    Greg - you put things very well with the statement below. I couldn't have said it better myself.

    "I know all this talk about society’s best interest is an anathema to American libertarians, who pretty much think society is nothing more than a collection of entitled little atoms."

  • Dan

    I don't buy the very basis of your argument in this posting, which equates corporations spending money to buy off politicians with freedom of speech.

    You also make the misleading statement that we as Americans are not entitled to free speech when we assemble. If I and a group of my friends want to protest the Obama administration, we can get some signs and go march in front of the White House demanding he be impeached. Isn't that the right of the assembled to free speech?

    Corporations that want to influence politicians on an issue by donating millions of dollars cannot be compared to that group of my friends and me. I work at a major corporation, and if my company gave money to a political party, I guarantee they wouldn't ask me and the other employees before doing so, nor will their "speech," which you define as giving money - a point I'd argue against - necessarily reflect my personal point of view or even the shareholders' point of view. How is that free speech of the assembled, I ask you?

  • Mesa Econoguy
  • Dr. T

    Dan seems to be deliberately dense. Corporations are owned by people either through private ownership or through public shareholdings. Because the government has involved itself in every aspect of society and business, corporations have every right to formulate and publicize political viewpoints. For example, Walmart might want to speak out against a proposed clothing tariff on China. Microsoft might want to speak out because the USA isn't doing enough to prevent software piracy by other nations. Coyote's company might want to speak out about inefficient running of federal parks and the benefits of private operations. These types of speech may mention elected politicians or candidates by name and might tell the public which politicians support which viewpoints. I cannot see how this is harmful. Corporations will not be able to overwhelm other speech, especially since different corporations have different viewpoints. For example, investment companies will be pleased by Obama's plan to limit stock purchasing by banks. The banks will have a completely opposite view. Automakers may speak out against a steel tariff while steelmakers will avidly support it.

    On a different note: The voting of the Supreme Court split on party lines: justices appointed by Republicans supported the ruling, those appointed by Democrats opposed the ruling.

  • Not Sure

    "I know all this talk about society’s best interest is an anathema to American libertarians, who pretty much think society is nothing more than a collection of entitled little atoms." - Greg

    Any chance you might consider posting a list of those entitlements you claim libertarians want?

  • D-man

    Dan: define "big" (as in "big corporations"). Who gets to define the term? We both know the answer, don't we? Isn't it a lot like the AGW alarmists getting to define "too hot"?

    I work at a well-known electronic company that gave $100k to the No on 8 (gay marriage) campaign days before the 2008 election. The corporation was widely praised by the local press and the overwhelmingly liberal political power structure here in CA for its devotion to "civil rights." No corporation officer was sued or prosecuted under McCain-Feingold for attempting to influence the election. It's usually WHO you give to rather than HOW MUCH that matters.

    Morganovich nails it, as he often does: "free speech either applies to all or to none." No one will ever be able to adequately define the shades of gray between without the use of weasel words.

    Although Mesa Econoguy's logic is irrefutable...

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  • perlhaqr

    I second Not Sure's laudation of Reformed Republican's point.

    “The easy solution for getting business money out of politics is to get politics out of business. If the government is not picking winners and losers, the corporations have no incentive to spend money buying government officials.” – Reformed Republican

    Damn right. If we get the government out of the business of tilting the playing field in favor of certain competitors, those competitors will stop trying to buy elections for certain politicians. (Which is, of course, precisely why said politicians do it in the first place.)

  • markm

    "It is in the interest of the press to get information out quickly and accurately, and this interest coincides nicely with society’s need for information. This is why a free press is protected, with limitations. Or at least that’s the ideal. Today the press seems to be spreading increasing amounts of drivel."

    It always has been thus. When the 1st Amendment was written, most newspapers were openly partisan. In many of them, the same man was reporter, editor, and press operator, without the fact-checking mechanisms of the modern media corporations, which are moderately effective with honest reporters, but neither achieve 100% accuracy in the average article - ask anyone who's been the subject of one - nor caught Jayson Blair and Dan Rather slipping in stuff that was just made up.

    If the media appear to be getting worse, it is because now they are being fact-checked by outsiders after publication. Bloggers exposed the forged documents that Rather aired. IIRC, bloggers caught Jayson Blair and others in made-up stories. Bloggers point out the other side of stories when the NYT, CNN, etc., ignore them.

    But it's really rich that the NYT corporation's top employees are arguing that another corporation shouldn't have free speech rights.

  • Greg

    "You also make the misleading statement that we as Americans are not entitled to free speech when we assemble. If I and a group of my friends want to protest the Obama administration, we can get some signs and go march in front of the White House demanding he be impeached. Isn’t that the right of the assembled to free speech?"

    This is precisely the straw man that those in favor of this ruling have been trying to erect. Do you have a burning desire to exercise your right of corporate free speech by donating a single check with your corporation's watermark on it to a political ad campaign? Go around with the collection plate, combine them all into one big check, and then have the manager deliver it to your lobbyist of choice.

    It is the investment of corporate profit into politics that is problematic. I'll try and frame the problem in a way that will resonate with this board. If I have a pension fund that invests money into a company, and that company in turn spends a portion of its profits on a politician whose ideas I disagree with, what recourse do I have? It would be hard for me to choose not to invest in that particular pension fund, even on the off chance I had the knowledge to take responsibility for "my" (read: corporate profit spending) actions.

    "Because the government has involved itself in every aspect of society and business, corporations have every right to formulate and publicize political viewpoints."

    Unfortunately the government has also involved itself in every aspect of individual life. The problem arises when powerful corporate interests do not parallel the interests of those outside the corporation. Whose view point will be most represented in the campaign, Google? Exxon? You?

    "define “big” (as in “big corporations”)"

    This impossible definition is unnecessary. Big will always be proportional in the business world, it is better just to do what we've done for the past 100 years and limit all corporate spending.

    "The easy solution for getting business money out of politics is to get politics out of business."

    I think we all agree with this ideal, we just disagree on how best to achieve it.

  • Dan

    Good post, Greg. I notice none of the "free speech" advocates on this board have come back with any snappy answers.