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Last September, I wrote a post titled Soylent Green & Corporations Are People Too about the then pending US Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that would allow US corporations to spend unlimited amounts of their own money to influence political campaigns on the theory that corporations are people too, with all the rights of individual citizens. These include the 1st Amendment right of “free speech” that the Court had earlier equated with money– more money equals more “free speech.”
Well, the Court just ruled. The ‘money’ quotes:
The Court returns to the principle established in Buckley and Bellotti that the Government may not suppress political speech based on the speaker’s corporate identity. No sufficient governmental interest justifies limits on the political speech of nonprofit or for-profit corporations [p.6]
If elected officials succumb to improper influences from independent expenditures; if they surrender their best judgment; and if they put expediency before principle, then surely there is cause for concern. We must give weight to attempts by Congress to seek to dispel either the appearance or the reality of these influences. The remedies enacted by law, however, must comply with the First Amendment; and, it is our law and our tradition that more speech, not less, is the governing rule. An outright ban on corporate political speech during the critical preelection period is not a permissible remedy. Here Congress has created categorical bans on speech that are asymmetrical to preventing quid pro quo corruption.[p.52]
Asymmetrical, my ass. From Justice Stevens‘ dissent:
If taken seriously, our colleagues’ assumption that the identity of a speaker has no relevance to the Government’s ability to regulate political speech would lead to some remarkable conclusions. Such an assumption would have accorded the propaganda broadcasts to our troops by“Tokyo Rose” during World War II the same protection as speech by Allied commanders. More pertinently, it would appear to afford the same protection to multinational corporations controlled by foreigners as to individual Americans: To do otherwise, after all, could “‘enhance the relative voice’” of some (i.e., humans) over others (i.e., nonhumans). Ante, at 33 (quoting Buckley, 424 U. S., at 49).51 Under the majority’s view, I suppose it may be a First Amendment problem that corporations are not permitted to vote, given that voting is, among other things, a form of speech. (52)
In short, the Court dramatically overstates its critique of identity-based distinctions, without ever explaining why corporate identity demands the same treatment as individual identity. Only the most wooden approach to the First Amendment could justify the unprecedented line it seeks to draw. [pps.120-121]
Well, we Americans had a good run. We began as a government of the people, for the people, and by the people. But, almost inevitably it would seem, given the impersonal forces of unrestrained materialism, we have become a government of, for, and by the corporations.
If an industry like the financial sector can afford to distribute $145 billion in bonuses for just one year, what chance do individuals, non-profit corporations, and unions have in trying to enact regulations that would prevent even their most predatory behaviors? How can we compete with the medical industrial complex’s ability to spend hundreds of billions of dollars defending the status quo? Or the energy companies from resisting climate change regulation? Or any other corporate interest from ‘maximizing shareholder equity’ at the expense of everybody else?
Social Darwinism, here we come.
UPDATE: Upon further reading of the decision, it turns out that it’s not just US corporations that will benefit from the ruling (the assumption contained in my September post) , but foreign corporations as well. Naturally, this includes those that are state based, such as Saudi Aramco and China’s various companies.
What was that about the Constitution not being a suicide pact?