Wotka World Wide

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Jacob Sullum recently had yet another excellent piece on the drive to regulate political speech:

The over-the-top reactions to Citizens United reflect a view of corporations as giant, soulless automatons that are fine for producing goods and services in a regulated environment but bound to wreak havoc if let loose in the halls of political power. That view obscures the fact that corporations, no matter how large or profit-driven, are by definition associations of individuals who have joined together for a common purpose. It also misleadingly suggests that behemoths such as Wal-Mart and Exxon Mobil are typical corporations, when in fact the vast majority of the 6 million or so corporations registered in the United States are small businesses or nonprofits.

“In 2010 almost everything is incorporated,” notes Allison Hayward, a former George Mason University law professor who recently became vice president of policy at the Center for Competitive Politics, which favors deregulation of political speech. “Anything you want to do as a group with other people—apart from the context where partnerships might work, like practicing law—you’re going to do through a corporate form of some kind.” Civil society, including churches, charitable organizations, and grassroots political groups of every interest and ideology, consists largely of corporations.

For an illustration, one need look no further than the case the Supreme Court decided. Citizens United, founded by the conservative activist Floyd Brown in 1988, is not a huge corporation seeking subsidies or permission to pollute. It is a nonprofit, ideological organization with an annual budget of $12 million that wanted to run a documentary about Hillary Clinton on pay-per-view TV. It was forbidden to do so, under threat of fine and imprisonment, because a) Clinton was running for the Democratic presidential nomination, and b) the documentary made her look bad. The movie therefore violated the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, a.k.a. McCain-Feingold, which banned “electioneering communications,” defined as TV or radio ads sponsored by unions or corporations that mention a candidate for federal office within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election.

Contrary to all the rhetoric about corporations drowning out the voice of the people, corporations are the voice of the people—people who pool their resources because they hate Hillary Clinton, love the rainforest, worry about the national debt, support gay marriage, think abortion is murder, oppose gun control, or even believe that corporations have too much influence on politics. McCain-Feingold told these groups they were not allowed to talk about their issues close to an election if the discussion happened to mention any politicians running for federal office.

It is long, but read the whole thing.

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