On The Supreme Court's Decision

Fair warning to my liberal friends; you will likely disagree with me on this subject.

For the better part of the last 72 hours, I've been thinking about the decision regarding campaign finance laws that the Supreme Court handed down last week.

Over the last few days, I've read a bunch of prose opining about the impact this decision will have on the future of political campaigns -- mostly bad. I've read a lot of folks saying that this decision opens the door to the return of the Robber Barons. I've also seen 'this opens the flood gates' metaphor used quite a bit. Hell, the Supreme Court's decision has even provoked a Keith Olbermann special comment. Watch out now.

However, while I do agree that allowing corporations to flood political campaigns with huge donations is a scary prospect, I find myself reluctantly taking sides with the Court's narrow majority on this; the First Amendment is the issue at stake here, more so than the issue of financial fairness in political campaigning.

Here is a clip of last Thursday's Countdown wherein Keith Olbermann is schooled by frequent guest and Constitutional law professor Jonthan Turley:

I have to say that I see exactly what Turley is saying.

A corporation may not be a person, but it is made up of people (not unlike Soylent Green). Now, I may not agree with the practices that many corporations use when giving money to a political campaign or organization -- but that one fact remains. [side note: I would be much more on-board with companies that actually polled their employees and contributed to the campaign/organization that the corporation voted for -- but I digress]

Let's get down to brass tacks...

A refresher. Here is the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America:
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.
Correct me if I'm wrong (and I'm fairly sure that I'm not), but there is no language in the First Amendment that excludes corporations from its protections. To this point, many are arguing that 'corporations are not people'. But, if corporations are not subject to the First Amendment, then the government could censor everything from movies (Farenheit 9/11 anyone?) to newspapers (from The New York Times to The Wall Street Journal) to blogs (Huffington, Pajamas Media and any other incorporated new media site).

So, for example, if Exxon/Mobil wanted to make a public statement that wholeheartedly refutes global warming -- a stance that the current administration vehemently disagrees with -- they are free to do so based on the First Amendment. In doing so, the government is powerless to stop them. Exxon/Mobil is a corporation and they are covered by the same Constitutional protections as I am in writing this blog post.

Right now, I think that so many Democrats are up-in-arms over this decision because they (falsely) view it as helping Republicans. They could not be more mistaken. This decision favors no party. Daniel Indiviglio:
These days, most big businesses hedge their bets and donate to both parties. Or more appropriately, they donate to whoever is in power, or likely to be. That's why the Obama campaign did so well. Not all that money was from individuals -- a large portion was from corporations, or their PACs.

For example, the Democrats' priorities align with plenty of corporate interests. Many businesses, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, supported last year's stimulus. The tech industry is dominated by campaign contributions to the left, to further goals like net neutrality. Firms who are heavily involved in green tech initiatives also favor the Democrats. The HMOs love the health care reform bill. And of course, something like 99% of unions' political spending goes to Democrats. While the Republicans will certainly continue to be favored by some parts of business, so will Democrats.
Add to that a good point by Simon Rosenberg:
Having big corporate America come in on behalf of a candidate will almost certainly guarantee that a candidate becomes tarred as taking the side of big corporations against the average guy, something this cycle that could be deadly. The GOP better think twice about their newly populist brand before celebrating this decision too much.
Well, I wouldn't go that far. They can celebrate, I would just be very careful about huge sums of money being taken from big corporations. His larger point rings true (for both parties).

The second myth, or perhaps fear, is that with corporations able to give money to PACs, candidates and advocacy groups, the average American, or 'little guy' will get lost in the shuffle. John Freehery:
Any congressman of either party who is worth his salt should always be looking out for the little guy. In my view, the best way to help the little guy is to create the best possible conditions for the business sector so it can give more jobs and more healthcare to more little guys.

How did the little guy fare in Soviet Russia or Mao’s China? Not very well.

I am not overly sentimental about corporate America, but I recognize that without the corporations that create most of the jobs, most of the wealth, and most of the products that we use every day, this country would be screwed.
The bottom line?

For me, corporations are still largely 'big and bad'. I don't particularly like the idea that Wal-Mart could buy the next President (or Senator, or Congressman, et al). That should go without saying. However, I think (hope?) that most Americans would be/will be able to see through corporate influence when faced with it. I suppose that is an optimistic thought, but it is my hope nonetheless.

As campaign finance laws are amended to reflect the Supreme Court's decision I would also hope that transparency is a key element. If corporations are being given the green light to financially back candidates, they should not be permitted to hide behind PACs and other front groups. If the aforementioned Exxon/Mobil were to donate $4 million to Candidate X, that information should be easily accessible to the public. Perhaps even from Candidate X's own disclosures.

Lastly, I think that fierce partisanship is to blame for much of the hysteria over the Court's decision. Bearing that in mind, Paul Levinson offers this nugget:
It's hard, I know, to support the right of people or organizations to speak and write and buy ads when you utterly and vehemently disagree with their positions. But that is precisely what the First Amendment was designed to support and protect. Because it protects the expression not just of opinions you may detest, but your own most cherished opinions, when others may find them detestable.

Cartoon: Matt Wuerker