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January 25, 2010 - 9:22am

Today's Poll: Should corporations have same political free speech rights as individuals?

posted by Howard B. Owens in polls.
Howard B. Owens
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So you think it's OK to ban a movie such as "Hilary: The Movie" or, if made, "McCain: The Movie." Just screw the First Amendment.
Chris Charvella
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Howard, they didn't rule on the video, they decided to go a step further (a step no one asked them to take by the way) and overruled Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce and McConnell v. Federal Election Commission.
Bea McManis
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Howard, I realize they can't be banned, and I'm not advocating banning films or other forms of media. My comment was more personal opinion than judicial ruling. I feel that both films (either real or supposed)further muddy the already rank political process.
Howard B. Owens
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If McCain-Feingold hadn't over-reached, which led to the attempt to ban this video, then there would have been no case. Pretty much every constitutional scholar in the country said McCain-Feingold was unconstitutional before it was even passed, but it passed anyway. It was only a matter of time before it got overturned. And when you look at it logically, if you say it's OK to make and distribute "Hilary: The Movie" then you have to look at who sponsors it. How can you say General Motors can't pay for a movie called "Obama: Savior of the Car Industry"? Who gets to decide who has free speech rights and who doesn't? Who gets to decide the General Motors can't look out for what it considers its own best business interests? There's all kinds of laws that get written, good and bad, that can either help or destroy a company -- a company should have no voice in those laws?
Chris Charvella
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General Motors and other corporations CAN look after their interests by donating to or forming their own PACs and they do. This decision changed things by letting these groups spend money directly which is a problem. Lets use the unions as an example. Before this week, unions had to form a PAC that members donated to of their own accord if they wanted to spend money on political campaigns. No money from union dues could be used for political purposes. This small but useful buffer ensured that the free speech rights of union members were protected because, as we all know, not all union members agree philosophically with union leadership. By requiring the existence of a PAC to take individual donations, dissenters within the union could be comfortable knowing that their dues weren't being used for something they didn't believe in. After this week's ruling, the unions will be able to spend money directly out of their general fund for whatever they see fit. I'm a pro-union guy, but I'm not so naive as to think that union leadership represents every member when it comes to political speech and it's the same with corporations. The folks who are employed at Company X have their own systems of belief and their speech must be protected as well. Let's use the corporate example now and I'm going to attack this from a different angle just to see if the point resonates. I've already explained how direct money hurts the free speech rights fo employees, but what about consumers, here we go: Company X makes widgets, they sell about a billion widgets a year to 20 million consumers. Company X is getting sick of the congressman in the district where their factory operates because making widgets creates a ton of air and water pollution, people are starting to get sick and the Congressman has requested that they be investigated by the EPA. The guy running against the Congressman couldn't care less about pollution so Company X decides that they're going to spend 10 million dollars of their own to run ads smearing the congressman. Earlier this week, they wouldn't have been able to do so, they would have had to start a PAC and raise the money from individual donors. Now, they can take the money they made from widget sales all over the country to greatly affect an election in a single congressional district. By the way, Company X is actually owned by a holding company in France. See where I'm going with this? What I'm saying here is that my free speech can't get in the way of your free speech and vice versa. Allowing direct political spending by corporate or union interests infringes on the free speech rights of every day citizens and needs to be stopped.
Richard Gahagan
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Obama lied about the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision during his State of the Union Address, and the purpose was to intimidate the Court during its future, related decisions. Federal Election Commission member Bradley Smith wrote that, “The corporate ban is not about foreign contributions, and the government never tried to defend it as such. To suggest that this ruling allows foreign expenditures in elections is wholly misleading.” The court did their job they ruled a piece of legislation was unconstitutional. Obama didn't like their decision because it allows corporations to openly and freely disagree with his agenda and policies and he doesn't like the constitution.
Howard B. Owens
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First, Chris, the employees have NO free speech rights as it relates to the company. They are EMPLOYEES. Get it. EMPLOYEES. Not owners. We've been over that before. Employees retain their own free speech rights, but then neither receive nor grant free speech rights related to employment. The only nexus is that employers can rightly prohibit employees from speaking in any manor that reflects on the company, possibly implying endorsement by the company of said employees opinions or any manner that possibly brings discredit on the company. The company can say whatever the hell it wants and the employee has no more say in that speech than the boss is willing to allow, which can range from nothing at all to complete input. That is the boss's decision solely and completely. If the employee doesn't like what the boss/company says, he or she can quit. Otherwise, the employee has no say so whatsoever in the company's right to say what the hell it wants. Why keep bringing the employees into it? American corporations are not socialist co-ops where every one gets a vote. Furthermore, the Constitution is the Constitution. "Congress shall make no law ..." and Congress did, and the Supreme Court rightly shot down that law. Hypothetical extreme examples are not going to sway me from believing that free speech much be up held for all.
Chris Charvella
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Howard, the Constitution grants rights to people living in the United States corporations are not people. Well, I suppose they are now...
Chris Charvella
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If the COurt had just ruled on the damned video everything would be fine. I honestly believe that the video was fine because if you wanted to watch it you had to pay for it. The Court didn't bother with the issue at hand though, they decided overturn decades of accepted law instead. Whatever level of free speech a corporation or union can claim could have been protected simply by ruling the movie legal, there was no reason to reach further.
Richard Gahagan
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The Court's decision in Citizens United dealt, not with campaign contributions, but with "using . . . general treasury funds to make independent expenditures for speech defined as an "electioneering communication" or for speech expressly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate. 2 U.S.C. §441b." (emphasis added). The Court did not expand the ability of corporations or other entities to make contributions to candidates. When Government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought. This is unlawful. The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves
Bea McManis
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Posted by Howard Owens on January 25, 2010 - 7:55pm @C.M. Barons: "Depriving a corporation or union of such rights does not rescind those rights for the individuals who comprise those groups." Not true. One of our rights is the right to assembly. We have the right to associate with any group we want. If you deprive any group the right to speak as a group, you deny it a key First Amendment right. Howard, "the right to free assembly" is also part of the free speech issue. The owner(s) of the Widget Company Inc. all have their individual right to free speech. Now, that corporation also has the rights formally granted to citizens. As you mentioned in the post this includes the 'right to assemble'. Can you give us an example of the 'right to assemble' a corporation could use to support thier favorite candidate?
Chris Charvella
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No one is talking about direct campaign contributions here Richard, but you're point is correct and I'm glad you made it. This can be a confusing issue.
Howard B. Owens
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Chris, Yes, corporations are not people. But, and here's the key point, corporations are run by people. People have rights. And to address Bea's point at the same time -- the people who run corporations have the right to form corporations (assemble) and use that corporation for political purposes as they see fit. It's very fundamental. People have the right to assemble. People have the right to free speech. Whether that assembly is called a corporation or a political action committee or the Democratic party, it's still a fundamental right. Oh, and btw, the GOP and the Democrats are also both corporations. Should we strip them of their rights, too?
Chris Charvella
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The people who run corporations have rights, correct. They are free to exercise those rights as individuals, write a check, form a PAC etc... Corporations are not covered by the spirit or the letter of our right to assembly. The DNC and RNC are not corporations in the sense we're talking about here, they are a different type of legal entity and are registered under the charities and non-profit section of our tax code. They are highly regulated when it comes to accepted donations and expenditures. I daresay they are more regulated in fact now than corporations and unions.
Howard B. Owens
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First, the people who run corporations have the right to assembly as a corporation, if they choose. Period. Because laws that the government might pass could greatly effect the ability of a corporation to operate profitably, the people who run the corporation have the right to operate in the political realm. To deny them that right opens to door to denying us any right that the government so chooses. I think they were very much covered under the spirit of right to assembly, just as all people were. Second, let's say the corporation itself can't make a donation, but the CEO can -- what have you gained? So it's the CEO pumping $10 million into a campaign instead of the corporation. Now, I don't know if the recent court decisions effects individual giving, but if it's not right to limit corporate giving, it certainly isn't right to limit individual giving. So what have you gained by shifting the contribution to the CEO instead of the corporation? Further, in pre-McCain-Feingold-era campaign giving, there were limits on corporation and individual giving. How do you suppose corporations got around that? They paid bonuses to all of their executives with the not so subtle hint of where political contributions were to be made. So the VP of Finance might get a $500 bonus, and then he and his wife would each make a $250 donation (the limit for individual contributions) to the candidate of choice. Wouldn't it be better to just be completely up front and have each corporation reporting exactly what they gave and how and to whom? In the Internet era, we all have a voice now that is much more powerful in fighting against undue influence. There would be no President Obama if not for this technology. The very fact of Obama's election is rather substantial proof that we don't need outmoded thinking about campaign contributions.
Chris Charvella
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Corporations always had the right to form PACs. What they're doing now is slipping around the regulations (that were there for a reason, by the way.) They will now be able to spend unlimited amounts of money on electioneering and all they have to do is put their name on it. One thing that hasn't been brought up is the ridiculous amount of loopholes this decision opened up for soft money. If I'm a big donor but don't want money to be traced back to me I can get in touch with the CEO of Widget International(tm) and pay that company a 'consulting fee.' That money goes into their coffers and out comes a smear add asking whether or not Candidate Smith had carnal knowledge of the animals on his farm. The money can't be traced back to me or anyone else for that matter. This is the reason PAC's exist and are required to show who their donors are.
Chris Charvella
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As for the bonus paying strategy, why the hell do you think it was illegal in the first place? The goal was to keep the copious amounts of corporate money OUT of our electoral system. We've been bitching about soft money in this country for a decade now, but for some reason the Supreme Court decided to open the floodgates
Richard Gahagan
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No the Supreme Court merely detetermined that major portions of McCain-Feingold were unconstitutional-know why? Because they were. That's it.
Chris Charvella
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We're going to have to respectfully disagree Rich for all of the reasons stated above.
Chris Charvella
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I wish I could remember the name of the case, but Justice Kennedy (the swing vote on the most recent ruling) ruled against this kind of 'speech' just a few years ago. The case involved an elected Judge who ruled in favor of a major campaign donor in a civil suit. Kennedy was of the opinion that because of the size of the corporation's donations to the Judge's campaign he couldn't possibly have a neutral opinion on the matter at hand. Kennedy ruled that the judge should have recused himself from the proceeding and voted to overturn the verdict.

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