Freedom New Mexico
Stung by the Supreme Court’s recent ruling vindicating corporations’ free speech rights in political campaigns, the White House and congressional Democrats reportedly are preparing a response, although precise details of the legislation being considered are yet to be revealed.
In the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case, the high court ruled in January that the Constitution’s insistence “Congress shall make no law” restricting freedom of speech means precisely that. The ruling freed corporations to spend money to express their political preferences, something we’re certain the founders never intended to suppress.
Nevertheless, the Federal Election Commission had argued that under the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign law’s restrictions corporate-paid ads must be banned within 30 days of a primary election and 60 days of a general election. The court wisely reaffirmed the constitutional protection.
In seeking to suppress political speech of moneyed interests, the law essentially said what is fine for one person to do is illegal if two or more individuals band together, such as in a corporate relationship. But Americans don’t lose their constitutional rights simply because they band together, whether in a corporation, a labor union or a political action committee.
A recent New York Times report suggested Democrats want to “find a way to stem what they predict will be a flood of corporate money flowing into November’s midterm elections.” Unable now to directly ban spending, they apparently intend to impose new conditions, and capitalize on the issue. The Times said Democrats see “an attractive political issue” in railing against Wall Street as a new vacancy has opened on the court.
Conditions under consideration, according to the report, include requirements that corporations, unions and advocacy groups identify all financial donors “or set up separate accounts to handle political spending and identify the donors to that account.”
We find no harm in full campaign disclosures. But we suspect requirements like forcing “the main backer of a campaign advertisement to personally appear in television and radio spots to acknowledge the sponsorship,” as the Times reported, is intended to discourage speech more than identify it. The bill’s final wording will be interesting.
Some advocates unsuccessfully sought additional requirements. One proposal, reported the Times, would have required companies to get shareholder approval before spending money in a campaign, a cumbersome, expensive hurdle that appears designed to curb corporate contributions.
As we’ve noted before, if the disproportionate influence of moneyed interests needs correcting, it shouldn’t be at the expense of constitutional rights. Rather, the size and scope of government should be reduced to lessen the felt need of moneyed interests to influence lawmakers.
Americans who want to influence their representatives must be allowed to. But they shouldn’t need to as much as they do. Rather than attack the symptom, lawmakers should correct the underlying problem by scaling back a bloated, nearly omnipresent government that intrudes in virtually every aspect of private life.