Should We Curb The Speech Of Corporations?

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on September 8, 2009

I vote no. The Supreme Court will get to vote when it considers Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Ted Olson provides an excellent rundown of the case at hand, and the principles involved:

The government claims the authority to suppress corporate and union speech not only in broadcast formats but also in books, pamphlets and yard signs. Put simply, the government’s theory is that because wealthy corporations and unions might speak too much during elections, all of them must be silenced.

While the law prohibits even the smallest nonprofit groups from engaging in election advocacy, it exempts wealthy individuals, and it does not restrict the many advantages of incumbency for sitting members of Congress. A limitless loophole is also granted to the media. Thus the corporations that own NBC and ABC (GE and Disney, respectively), and corporations like The New York Times (or News Corp., owner of this newspaper), can express whatever views they want during campaigns.

Loopholes aside, the government’s argument that speech may be outlawed because it does not reflect “public support for the ideas expressed” is absurd. It is the very antithesis of free speech.

Hard-charging campaign rhetoric is something that the First Amendment’s authors had experienced firsthand. In making the choice between government-approved, polite discourse and boisterous debate, the Founders chose freedom. They did not say Congress could enact finely reticulated restrictions on speech. They said plainly that there could be “no law” abridging the freedom of speech.

The idea that corporate and union speech is somehow inherently corrupting is nonsense. Most corporations are small businesses, and they have every right to speak out when a candidate threatens the welfare of their employees or shareholders.

Be sure to check out Bradley Smith’s examination of the issue as well.

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