114th Congress: We're updating with new data as it becomes available.

OpenCongress Blog

Blog Feed Comments Feed More RSS Feeds

The Corporatization of Political Discourse

January 21, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

And you thought money in politics was bad enough already… NYT:

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that corporations may spend as freely as they like to support or oppose candidates for president and Congress, easing decades-old limits on business efforts to influence federal campaigns.

By a 5-4 vote, the court overturned a 20-year-old ruling that said companies can be prohibited from using money from their general treasuries to produce and run their own campaign ads. The decision, which almost certainly will also allow labor unions to participate more freely in campaigns, threatens similar limits imposed by 24 states.

Taegan Goddard: “This decision will almost certainly cause a mini-revolution in American politics.”

At the heart of the ruling (.pdf) is this bit of logic:

Distinguishing wealthy individuals from corporations based on the latter’s special advantages of, e.g., limited liability, does not suffice to allow laws prohibiting speech. 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.” Austin, supra, at 660. All speakers, including individuals and the media, use money amassed from the economic marketplace to fund their speech, and the First Amendment protects the resulting speech. Under the antidistortion rationale, Congress could also ban political speech of media corporations. Al- though currently exempt from §441b, they accumulate wealth with the help of their corporate form, may have aggregations of wealth, and may express views “hav[ing] little or no correlation to the public’s support” for those views. Differential treatment of media corporations and other corporations cannot be squared with the First Amendment, and there is no support for the view that the Amendment’s original meaning would permit suppressing media corporations’ political speech.

Remember, thanks to the 1976 case Buckley V. Valeo, giving money to politicians is considered “speech.”

And while the Buckley court ruled that the “appearance of corruption” was a constitutionally sufficient justification for placing limited restrictions on corporate funding of politicians, today’s ruling pretty much did away with that notion altogether:

…this Court now concludes that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption. That speakers may have influence over or access to elected officials does not mean that those officials are corrupt. And the appearance of influence or access will not cause the electorate to lose faith in this democracy.

Justice Stevens wrote the dissenting opinion, which begins on page 88 of the PDF: “The Court’s ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation. The path it has taken to reach its outcome will, I fear, do damage to this institution.”

Ellen Miller at Sunlight Foundation: How the Citizens United Case Affects Money & Politics and Transparency As We Know it

More commentary from around the internet can be found at Memeorandum.

Like this post? Stay in touch by following us on Twitter, joining us on Facebook, or by Subscribing with RSS.