When the Supreme Court ruled last week to lift restrictions on campaign contributions by corporations and unions, you might have thought the nation had been hit by an earthquake more severe than Haiti’s.
Liberals howled, turning on the hyperbole machine — beginning with President Obama. Wearing his new “populist” cloak, he said, “It is a major victory for Big Oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of every day Americans.”
Phew. In that mouthful, he forgot to mention the labor unions, and he chose to forget that all interests seeking congressional action or victory at the polls for various candidates are special interests. Put them all together and you have many voices of many every day Americans.
Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) upped the rhetoric. “This is poisonous to our democracy,” he said and began work on a constitutional ban on free speech by for-profit corporations. Like many on the left, he’s for selective free speech. Another example is George Soros, who made many millions in currency speculation. He poured money into “527” enterprises that got around the restrictions imposed by 2002’s McCain-Feingold law. Now, presumably, he and other financial angels of the left can use corporations they control — rather than their foundations — to fund campaigns.
A spokeswomen for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) was quoted as saying, “I don’t think working people would ever have as much to spend as corporations. For us, being able to spend a few extra dollars isn’t worth allowing decisions to be made from boardrooms instead of polling booths.” Before you reach for the Kleenex, note that in 2008, the members of her union’s board decided to spend a mere $27.4 on political campaigns.
The court’s decision emanates from a case brought in federal court by a non-profit corporation, Citizens United vs. Federal Communications Commission, which sought in 2008 to run on cable TV a film critical of Hillary Clinton, then a candidate in primaries. Last week’s ruling struck down the law prohibiting corporations and unions from directly advertising in support of or opposition to candidates. It also invalidated that portion of McCain-Feingold that prohibited corporations and unions from “electioneering communications” within 30 days of a primary and 60 days of a general election.
Will this change result in a huge surge in campaign spending by corporations as its critics imply? It is highly unlikely that Proctor & Gamble, Exxon and other publicly traded corporations will begin spending money on advertising for and against particular candidates. Such companies are mindful of customer and shareholder opinion, which is varied, and will shy away from such controversy. Some companies may increase contributions to their trade associations, but this would occur based upon their assessment of their economic interests and would be coincidental to the new ruling itself.
Many issue-oriented organizations are incorporated and heretofore had to restrict themselves to speaking out for or against an issue. They may now advertise for or against a candidate if that candidate strongly supports or opposes their positions.
Free speech is indivisible no matter how hard the proponents of public campaign financing in Congress (and their allies) have tried to make it so. Their goal is to make all taxpayers pay for all campaigns. Thus, you would be paying for a candidate who wants, say, to nationalize health care to argue his or her position even though you were firmly against it. That turns free speech on its head.
In writing the court’s opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy, put the case succinctly: “Because speech is an essential mechanism of democracy…political speech must prevail against laws that would suppress it by design or inadvertence.”