Corporations can now put money on campaigns
According to the aggressive court majority, corporations are like people. And so, under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, banning corporate contributions is an infringement on their freedom of speech.
(The First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”)
The reasoning of the court majority, in an opinion written by the court’s swing man, Ronald Reagan appointee Anthony M. Kennedy, was that as long as voters and company shareholders know which corporations are giving how much campaign cash to which politicians, they can consider that information in voting and investing.
“With the advent of the Internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters,” Kennedy wrote. “ Shareholders can determine whether their corporation’s political speech advances the corporation’s interest in making profits, and citizens can see whether elected officials are ‘in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests.’
“The First Amendment protects political speech; and disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way. This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.”
This defense of what might be called corporate populism is interesting, because the Populist era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was the force that brought about government limitations on corporate money in political campaigns in the first place.
The Texas Railroad Commission was established in 1891, aimed at stopping railroad companies from gouging farmers with freight rates. Texas was a groundbreaker for the nation on banning corporate cash in politics in 1905. The federal government did so in 1907.
Swing man Kennedy sometimes sides – as he did on this opinion -- with the more conservative group: Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., Samuel A. Alito Jr., Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas.
Sometimes Kennedy is allied with the more liberal justices: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, new Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and John Paul Stevens, who wrote the stinging dissent castigating the more conservative quintet.
“The Court’s blinkered and aphoristic approach to the First Amendment may well promote corporate power at the cost of the individual and collective self-expression the Amendment was meant to serve,” Stevens wrote. (“Blinkered” essentially means having tunnel vision.)
“It will undoubtedly cripple the ability of ordinary citizens, Congress, and the States to adopt even limited measures to protect against corporate domination of the electoral process. Americans may be forgiven if they do not feel the Court has advanced the cause of self-government today.”
It’s hard to know who will be right in the long run, although there’s a good chance that today’s solution by the court will be tomorrow’s problem, and there will be unforeseen unintended consequences.
No telling what economic forces on politics this will bring about, although trying to control how money gets to politicians, and how much, has usually been problematic. Some already predict that the decision may be the catalyst to bring about public financing of campaigns.
President Barack Obama wasted no time in castigating the opinion. He called it “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 everyday Americans.”
Justice Stevens’ final sentence took a parting shot at the court majority.
“While American democracy is imperfect,” Stevens wrote, “few outside the majority of this court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.”
In the short run, while the aftershocks of the decision continue, one possible interim suggestion: Require politicians to copy NASCAR drivers, and wear logos of their corporate sponsors on their suits.
And So On. . . If you were curious about why the first President George Bush and wife Barbara endorsed U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in her challenge to incumbent Gov. Rick Perry, there are probably several reasons.
But one probably is that the former president, who chose Texas A&M University as the home for his presidential library, and Barbara, weren’t thrilled when Perry and his sidekicks meddled in the administration of A&M to the extent that some top academicians around the country turned down offers to be considered for the school’s presidency.