The Supreme Court, in its recent Citizens United v. FEC decision, declared campaign finance regulations unconstitutional.
A lot of people were upset at this ruling. Glen Greenwald, someone I quote supportively quite a bit on warhw.com, managed to miss the forest for the trees on this one and has thrown down the gauntlet to those who are upset:
“Either the First Amendment allows these speech restrictions or it doesn’t. In general, a law that violates the Constitution can’t be upheld because the law produces good outcomes”
And just slightly later, this:
“those who want to object to the Court’s ruling need to do so on First Amendment grounds.”
Glen, for all the times I’ve quoted you and linked to your articles because of how right you are about something, never, and I mean never, have you been so wrong as you are now.
There is in your demand above an implicit premise: The notion that corporations have the right to free speech in the first place. If corporations have the right to free speech, then yes, any campaign finance law must respect that right.
But people opposing the Court’s ruling aren’t opposing it because they think the government should be able to restrict the freedom of speech, they oppose the ruling because they don’t think corporations have a right to free speech in the first place.
If corporations don’t have the right to free speech, then campaign finanace laws can restrict how corporations move their money around when it comes to political campaigns.
So, to challenge Glenn’s implicit premise, let’s take a look at all the constitutional rights and legal rights besides the right to free speech and see how many corporations have those rights.
How about the right to keep and bear arms? Should AIG be allowed to stockpile weapons so that it may become part of a well regulated militia? The idea is absurd.
The fifteenth amendment says the right to vote cannot be infringed because of color. The ninteenth amendment says the right to vote cannot be infringed because of gender. The twenty-fourth amendment says the right to vote shall not be denied by a poll tax. The twenty-six amendment says the right to vote shall not be abridged by age. So, given that voting is a right, protected by four amendments in the Constitution, should AIG be allowed to vote in an election?
This is the absurdity of granting corporations personhood: rights meant to protect humans codified in the Constitution are twisted until they become rights of corporations.
Human rights are not corporate rights.
People vote, corporations don’t.
But Glenn demands that if we disagree with the Supreme Court decision of Citizens United v. FEC must disagree “on First Amendment grounds”. Glenn forbids us to disagree with the whole idea of “corporate rights” and corporate “personhood”. He has ruled them off limits.
And, yes, if one accepts the premise that corporations are persons, and if one accepts the premise that persons have rights like free speech, then one would have to conclude that the Supreme Court made the right decision.
But the premise is flawed and the conclusion is wrong.
While I’m talking about what is and is not allowed by the Constitution, I’d like to bring up one of my favorite clauses:
Congress shall have the power to regulate Commerce.
And by regulate, I don’t mean simply that Congress can bail out banks and corporations that are too big to fail. I mean that Congress has the Power (and the responsibility and duty) to regulate the abuse of power that comes from money and monopolies.
I’m not talking about corporate welfare, golden parachutes, outrageous executive bonuses, and free money for corporations. I’m talking about Teddy Roosevelt-style trust busting, monopoly shattering, minimum wage demanding, worker safety imposing, and product safety requiring kinds of regulation.
Congress shall have the power to regulate commerce.
The thing about corporations and free speech and campaign finance is that no one is saying that the CEO of AIG can’t donate money to Bush’s campaign. What they’re saying is that AIG itself, the corporate entity that gets to hide behind the corporate veil because the law deigns it to be so that it will encourage investing and commerce, that corporation has no right mucking about in politics.
The CEO of Walmart has a right to vote for whoever he wants to vote for when he walks into the voting booth. But Walmart Incorporated, the artificial entity that is headquartered in Arkansas, has NO RIGHT TO VOTE.
Now, if Walmart Corporation sued for the right to vote and the Supreme Court, in its infinite wisdom, said that Walmart had the right to vote in political elections, and if people were upset about that decision, but Glenn Greenwald said that people must object to the ruling on 15th, 19th, 24th, and 25th ammendment grounds, well, hopefully, the absurdity of the demand would be obvious.
Corporations do not have the right to vote in political elections. Corporations do not have the right to free speech.
Humans have the right to vote and the right to free speech and all the other human rights codified in the Constitution. And I understand that people sometimes use corporations as a channel for their speech, so there is some issues with the concept of regulating corporate speech as it may regulate individual speech.
But when it comes to campaign contributions, donating money to a political campaign, that should be as obviously wrong as shouting “fire” in a movie theater and saying it is free speech.
Free Speech doesn’t give you the right to shout “fire” in a crowded theater. And the right to vote doesn’t extend to corporations. The right to contribute to political campaigns is a human right, not a corporate right.
People vote. Corporations don’t.