Free Speech Is Gonna Cost Ya


cor·poc·ra·cy // (kôr-pkr-s)

n. pl. cor·poc·ra·cies

1. A society dominated politically and economically by large corporations.

Original DVD cover

From Stuart Taylor, Jr. at  National Journal Magazine:

For decades conservatives have accused liberal Supreme Court majorities of judicial activism, by which I mean sweeping aside democratically adopted laws and deeply rooted societal traditions to impose their own policy preferences based on highly debatable interpretations of the Constitution’s language and established meaning.
On Thursday, the five more conservative justices — and in particular Chief Justice John Roberts and Samuel Alito, who went well beyond anything they’ve said before — forfeited whatever high ground they once held in the judicial activism debate.

I refer, of course, to the hugely important 5-4 decision freeing all corporations and, by clear implication, labor unions to spend unlimited sums supporting or opposing federal candidates.

The majority’s sweeping and unprecedented interpretation of corporations’ First Amendment rights, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy and joined by Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, as well as Roberts and Alito, wiped out federal laws dating back 63 years and two major precedents.

And while the Court’s green light for “independent expenditures” of corporate funds on elections left intact the ban on direct corporate contributions to candidates, it nonetheless risked increasing the already worrisome dependence of candidates on various forms of big-business and big-labor support.


This is not to join in liberal alarums that the decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission will necessarily swamp federal elections under a deluge of corporate money. Nobody really knows how big a difference it will make. Corporate freedom to spend on elections does not seem to have had much impact in the 26 states that already allow it, perhaps because big businesses are wary of making enemies as well as friends. And union spending for Democrats will offset any Republican advantage in corporate spending.


All nine justices passed up an opportunity to carve out a pragmatic, principled exception to Congress’s overbroad 63-year-old ban on corporate spending on federal elections, an exception that could have amply protected Americans’ free speech rights without allowing big business executives to use other people’s money — that of shareholders — to buy politicians.

Specifically, the Court should have upheld the ban on election spending of shareholder funds by business corporations but allowed election spending by nonprofit ideological groups, such as the Sierra Club, the National Rifle Association, and the ACLU, whose members give them money precisely for the purpose of influencing governmental policies.

Kennedy’s majority opinion is utterly unconvincing in arguing that unleashing big business corporations to spend shareholder funds to support and oppose candidates is necessary to protect the rights of those shareholders and executives who wish to aggregate their money for such purposes.

As the dissenters point out, all corporations are free to create political action committees that can spend on elections as much money as they can collect from officers, shareholders, and others who choose to donate for that purpose. Corporations are also free to spend stockholder funds without limit on “issue ads” and on lobbying.


Kennedy also stresses that the main arguments adopted by the now-overruled precedents for banning corporate spending of shareholder funds on elections — that such spending involves “corruption” or “the corrosive and distorting effects of immense aggregations of wealth that are accumulated with the help of the corporate form” — are unconvincing or problematic.

He’s right about that. But Kennedy all too cavalierly bats aside a far more compelling argument for banning corporate executives from spending shareholder funds on elections.

The money does not belong to the executives who decide how to spend it; corporate law allows them to spend it only to serve their companies’ parochial economic interests; and the vast majority of the individual shareholders to whom the money does belong have not chosen to spend it on elections and would in many cases disagree with the executives’ candidate preferences.


Most people own stock through mutual funds and retirement plans and don’t pay attention to election spending by individual companies of which they own tiny percentages. Why should a corporate executive or anyone else be allowed to pour other people’s money into political campaigns as though the shareholders wanted that done?

In this regard, the dissenters were quite right to suggest that in the majority’s distended view of corporate First Amendment rights, “multinational corporations controlled by foreigners” — who have no right to spend individually on elections — could spend unlimited sums on federal elections. The majority backhandedly acknowledged that this might be troublesome and then moved on.


I wrote in a September 19 column that “it would look a lot like judicial activism for the more conservative justices to ram through, for no good reason, a 5-4 decision smashing a cornerstone of campaign finance law; overruling precedents that date to 2003 and 1990; and brushing aside congressional concerns about corruption and its appearance — all in a case that does not even involve a business corporation.”

Now they’ve done it.


Filed under Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Constitution, Corruption, Democrats, FEC, Federal Election Commission, First Amendment, humor, John Roberts, movies, parody, politics, Republicans, Samuel Alito, snark, Supreme Court, Wordpress Political Blogs

18 responses to “Free Speech Is Gonna Cost Ya

  1. writechic

    The title of a post I have in progress is a quote from my daughter today. “Hey, Republicans! Corporations have more rights than your unborn child. Have a nice day. Thanks.”

    She was wigged out for about two hours after she saw Olbermann’s Special Comment on YouTube.

    • writechic

      (Idiocracy was hysterical. Corpocracy…a horror with palpable dread…at least personally.)

      • your daughter has a future in writing bumperstickers! that’s awesome!

        i saw idiocracy a few months ago when it was on tv. i thought it was stupid, but now i wish i had paid more attention.

        • writechic

          This will piss you off if you haven’t seen it already. The majority partially based their ruling on the conservative “Money is Speech” principle. From Slate: “The money-is-speech theory turns out to be a rhetorical device used exclusively to provide First Amendment protection for all money that wealthy people and businesses want to give to, or to spend, on campaigns.”

  2. I’m so annoyed by this news, I’m going to ignore it for this comment. Instead, check out the photoshop at the link.

  3. Maryooch brought up the subject of mutiple vote. The solution could be a new version of German upper house, the Landtag, where the number of votes varied with your rank. A low position would have a single vote, a important guy might have 5 votes, maybe 10 or more. Of course Kiaser Bill got 20 votes. Conservatives would like it because it’s very Imperial. And I must mention that last night during that amazing telethon for Haiti my curiosity was aroused when Cooper made reference to CNN (Iwas on MSNBC at the time) so I punched up the D-TV directory and all local network broadcast channels +PBS+CNN+MSNBC were doing their part to help in the diasaster relief. FNC? They were worshiping the former Queen of Alaska!

    • that would mean even more politicians being returned to dc over and over again, as each state or district would want the most powerful congresscritters representing them. we already have too many crappy politicians who have been in dc far too long. the better solution is to weigh votes in the senate, with the more populous states getting more weight than the sparsely populated states.

      it doesn’t surprise me at all that faux news didn’t bother with the haitian disaster. of course, princess sarah is a disaster in her own right, but she’s already got plenty of money.

  4. Tee hee… now the Unions have some competition… DAMN YOU RAISINS!

    hugs and kisses

    • well look who the cat dragged in!

      buffoon, how do you feel about the chinese, the saudis, and even hugo chavez 😯 now being legally allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money in order to boost the chances of politicians of their choice? are you still laughing?

      • Well, still laughing… but you have given me food for thought.


        now about the communist unions…

        • oh no! don’t do any thinking, buffoon, or they won’t invite you to any more tea parties.

          • Not the Tea Party type… still can’t get your minds around the fact that Obama is a communist?

            • no, i can’t wrap my mind around the fact that so many people are allowing rushbo and glenn beck to act as their civics teachers, the same people are cheering the fact that john roberts and the supremes have now given communist china the opportunity to finance whatever candidates they like.

  5. What floors me about this ruling is the Supremes stretched the interpretation– so it came under the guise of “Free Speech” protections!

    Now campaign free speech is tres spendy.

    It’s such a crock & a real blow to democracy.

    Do we think they just might expect favors & votes are being bought & sold in return for all the money?

    Free speech my ass.

    Let’s just call it what it is– Votes for Sale.

    • i would call it the corporate takeover of government. we already have that to a degree, but this will take it to a whole new level, including allowing foreign companies to have a huge say in who runs and who wins. just goes to show you, no matter how crappy a system is, you can always make it crappier.

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