Supremes disappoint; sign the petition

by Pete Talbot

By giving corporations the same rights as citizens, the U.S. Supreme Court guarantees a less-than-level playing field in upcoming elections. A majority on the court (this would be mainly your Reagan/Bush/Bush appointees) overturned much of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance act.

Here’s the story, and how each justice voted.

Of course, labor unions have also contributed vast sums to candidates and campaigns but weren’t happy with the ruling. SEIU denounced the court decision, saying it opened the door for corporations to outspend unions:

“I don’t think working people would ever have as much to spend as corporations. For us, being able to spend a few extra dollars isn’t worth allowing decisions to be made from boardrooms instead of the polling booth,” said union spokeswoman Lori Lodes.

In my inbox this morning was a timely request from David Sirota. He called the SCOTUS decision a “a radical ruling that threatens the most basic fundamentals of American democracy.” I agree. And Sirota offers up a petition to amend the Constitution to declare that corporations are NOT people. Please sign it.

  1. klemz

    The impact is politically radical, but I would call Austin the radical opinion from a constitutional construction standpoint. I agree that it’s ruinous to democracy to allow corporations unfettered influence over Capitol Hill, but the decades-old strategy of crafting federal election law without coming face to face with the underlying issue of corporate legal identity has been a process of building sandcastles.

    Tide out.

  2. problembear

    watched a great documentary this week on pbs showing alpha grizzly bears (corporations) utilizing wolf packs (politicians) to hamstring and bring down the elk,moose,deer carcass (us).

    we are fast becoming slaves to the rise of the machines now. question is….where is connor?

  3. If petition signatures were candy and nuts, we’d all have a merry Christmas.

    This ruling is so outrageous that a small percentage of Americans might even switch from one party to the other, shifting the balance of power, but changing nothing.

    But say there was a a popular uprising against this ruling … what would happen? The Democrats will absorb it and cut off its balls.

    Obama is outraged. Ooooooooh! I’m so scared … What’s he gonna do? Give a rousing speech? That seems to be his strong suit.

  4. petetalbot

    “This ruling is so outrageous … ” I agree, Mark. That’s why I’m looking at any avenue — petition, congressional act, public financing of elections — to affect change.

    I figure this is better than sitting on my ass and writing snarky comments.

    By the way, here’s what Obama said about the ruling:

    President Barack Obama attacked the ruling and said it gave “a green light to a new stampede of special-interest money in our politics,” particularly “big oil, Wall Street banks, health-insurance companies and the other powerful interests” that “drown out the voices of everyday Americans.” He pledged to work with lawmakers to craft a “forceful response.”

    We’ll see if he makes good on his pronouncement. I still hold out hope.

    Finally, your sentence on a “popular uprising” — “The Democrats will absorb it and cut off its balls.”

    I certainly understand your rancor at the Dems but again, I hold out some hope. There’s a big difference between a Russ Feingold and a Ben Nelson, or a Barney Frank and a Max Baucus. And I’ll keep working to get rid of the hacks.

  5. I certainly understand your rancor at the Dems but again, I hold out some hope. There’s a big difference between a Russ Feingold and a Ben Nelson, or a Barney Frank and a Max Baucus. And I’ll keep working to get rid of the hacks.

    And thus you hone in precisely the problem – the notion that the Democratic Party is the vehicle to address these problems. Obama and the Congress won’t do anything, can’t do anything. But for so long as you and others of energy look to them for solutions, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy – your balls are gone.

    Community organizing focusing anger into political action <i.not to replace one corporate candidate with another, but rather to scare all of them into doing something to avoid an uprising. That’s the only reason why Nixon signed so many good laws in the seventies. People were organized.

  6. So, if corporations now have First Amendment rights, does this mean they’ll have Second Amendment rights too?

    • problembear

      Corporations have fielded their own armies for years- ours.

      • No, seriously. If the reasoning of Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Alito and Kennedy leads them to rule corporations are akin to individual people, and so they have our First Amendment rights, what possible rationale would prevent corporations from having every other right in the Bill of Rights? Will there be private armies, Corporate Guards, insuring at the point of a gun we don’t choose Pepsi over Coke or buy Macs instead of PCs?

    • klemz

      The second amendment hasn’t been incorporated under the 14th to apply to the states, so only as far as federal law is concerned that right is guaranteed to corporations.

      That’s kind of a technical point, but this thread is rife with statements made in complete ignorance of constitutional review. Rebecca’s glib characterization of originalism/textualism (below) seems particularly egregious to me. It’s precisely because Scalia and Co. are concerned about the conjectural approach that you’ve taken here in assuming the framers intent (in the absence of real evidence, which is pretty much limited to the Federalist Papers) that they would consider it inappropriate to rely on legislative history at all when the text supports a clear construction.

      Am I out of bounds for saying that you should consider an idea before criticizing it? Or at least understand it, so that you don’t risk making a self-defeating statement like the one below? How many of you have even read this opinion? Or is it, like the health care bill, to quote opponents, simply too long?

        • problembear

          sorry klemz- meant to shout this out instead…

          • Glib and egregious? I can live with that. I’m in good company.

            Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens may have had his tongue in his cheek, or perhaps wanted merely to taunt the majority, when he wrote in Thursday’s opinion on the role of corporations in national politics: “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.”

          • Ryan Morton

            the right to vote is not a first amendment right.

          • klemz

            That’s the point, Ryan. He’s saying political contributions aren’t protected acts either.

            As far as his tone, Stevens is 89 years old – well past that stage when one begins dispensing with unnecessary pleasantries. Plus he’s had to deal with Scalia for 24 years.

          • Ryan Morton

            the ruling isn’t about contributions. it’s about expenditures.

          • klemz

            Thanks. Wasn’t paying attention to what I was saying.

      • Ryan Morton

        Well, the ruling has a syllabus that provides a short explanation. I found that useful. I agree with the regulations of corporate political speech (disclosure, disclaimer, contribution limits, etc.) but I don’t agree with outright banning of speech based on the identity of the speaker.

        While I certainly understand the frustration with corporate speakers, I don’t think the repercussions of banning “personhood” are well thought out. How else would not being a person affect corporations? As an example, banning corporate personhood would only promote the argument that corporations also shouldn’t be able to be sued. All the liability would be upon the employees. While that might seem ok on paper, think of all the judgments against corporations for bad behavior and all the money that corporations have had to pay out. Employees of a corporation don’t have nearly the deep pockets of the corporation. Further, the corporation could then just fire the employees and let them deal with their own liability while the corporation goes free.

        Treating a corporation like a person holds them more accountable just like a person… and you can’t treat them like a person in one context but not another. Either corporations are akin to people or they are not.

        Further, the ruling only relates to corporate expenditure on speech. There’s no flood-gate opening up financial access to politicians. We might just have more ads, specials, and marketing junk. In a civil society with public education and loads of satire, irony, and skepticism, what kind of threat is “Vote for my bill or else I’ll run nasty attack ads 30 days before your primary?”

        Consumers of speech should be just as vigilante as consumers of goods and services. Read the labels. Ask questions. Don’t assume you’re being told the whole story. And if you don’t like it the first time, don’t feel obligated to come back for more. I mean, I can’t listen to Fox News for more than 5 seconds without becoming irritated. So I don’t watch it. Fox News is just as political as any attack ad or corporate issue campaign. That doesn’t mean I think it should be banned simply because it’s a corporation.

        I’m open to being educated on the issue (although I imagine I’ll just get attacked as per usual in this bastion of “free” speech), but I have trust that corporate speech regulation can exist without outright bans on their speech.

        • Lizard

          i liked this snip from a piece by christopher ketcham:

          The laws of corporate personhood go back to the 1860s, in decisions offered by judges with close ties to the very corporations whose rights they were asked to judge. Corporate citizens, needless to say, have been a plague upon the land ever since (Joel Bakan, the law professor, has correctly observed that corporate citizenship often accords with sociopathic behavior, the kind of behavior that as a society we do not tolerate from individuals). In any case, corporate freedom is not a constitutional right, and corporations do not very much care about freedom of speech, press or assembly as it involves the individual. What a corporation cares about it is its collective endeavor. To provide a collectivist institution with the rights of the individual, to announce a corporation as a citizen, is one of those wonderful juridical inventions that could only be taken seriously in a system where law is exploited to veil reality and to render lies as truth.

          • Lizard

            here’s the link

          • Ryan Morton

            i get it that people think corporations are evil. that’s a perfectly legit argument in many different settings. you get no argument from me on that point.

            where i differ is the swan song about corporate speech and it’s relationship to spending. human beings spread nasty, twisted, and unsubstantiated speech all the time. what difference does it make if a corporation does the same with their dollars? any responsible stockholder and/or board member should make the due diligence to see how corporate money is being spent on messages. if the corporate message offends you, liquidate your assets from the corporation. if you think the corporation is spending way too much money on political messages, liquidate your assets from the corporation.

            i guess, i don’t see the eminent harm to people with corporations spending as much money as they’d like on commercials with political speech. if you don’t like it, don’t listen. if you don’t trust it, don’t listen.

            we should be wary of any restriction on speech (corporate or “human”) without a clear and present danger.

            further, the problem with campaign finance reform, in regards to the speech (money) corporations make, is that reform is constantly a moving target. if not corporations, then it’s the corporate PAC. if not the PAC, then something else. i guess that’s why i think regulations of speech are preferable to outright bans – at least we have a clear understanding that corporate speech comes from corporations (rather than laundered through some other means).

          • Lizard

            human beings spread nasty, twisted, and unsubstantiated speech all the time. what difference does it make if a corporation does the same with their dollars?

            as non-collectivist institutions, individual human beings are easily ruined through the consequences of litigation. corporations on the other hand, as “persons”, have a much longer “life-span” in which to accumulate the kind of wealth that often insulates them from cost-prohibitive litigation.

            the supreme court has actually done us human citizens a favor: the gloves are off, and there should be no more confusion regarding who our “elected” officials serve.

  7. problembear

    good question rebecca. absurd rulings foster absurd outcomes.
    law has no regard for common sense.

    • Don’t for one second think that they aren’t currently looking at every loophole with which to get exactly where Rebecca suggests.

      It’s how we got here in the first place. Bit by bit, by glorifying business for the sake of business, profit for the sake of profit – all the while, paying homage to Pepsi or Coke or Enron or Bank of America.

      We reap what we sow. We should push for Constitutional amendment immediately. Those that won’t go there? Vote ’em out of office immediately.

      Let’s get something done. I’m no hopeful about anything. But for this I can get mightily pissed off, and that’s a pretty good motivator.

      • I agree. And it’s not a bad idea to take a look at which ‘corporate persons’ slave masters are the most flush. It won’t come as a surprise to any that the Waltons are at the top of the list.

        Whatever you do, don’t feed the beast.

        Good night, Mary Ellen. Good night, John Boy.

    • Ryan Morton

      “good question rebecca. absurd rulings foster absurd outcomes. law has no regard for common sense.”

      law should NOT have regard for common sense. commonsensical approaches foster stereotypes and discrimination, promote backward thinking, and prevent positive change. be wary of anyone who appeals to the populist grumblings about common sense.

      “Common sense (or, when used attributively as an adjective, commonsense, common-sense, or commonsensical), based on a strict construction of the term, consists of what people in common would agree on: that which they “sense” as their common natural understanding. Some people (such as the authors of Merriam-Webster Online) use the phrase to refer to beliefs or propositions that — in their opinion — most people would consider prudent and of sound judgment, without reliance on esoteric knowledge or study or research, but based upon what they see as knowledge held by people “in common”. Thus “common sense” (in this view) equates to the knowledge and experience which most people allegedly have, or which the person using the term believes that they do or should have.”

    • problembear

      sounds like you are arguing with yourself there ryan….and somehow, inexplicably… managing to lose.

      some people can justify anything to themselves.

      i’ll get out of the way now and let you and your conscience slug it out.

      • Ryan Morton

        that’s an interesting point of view as i specifically suggest NOT using common sense (Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, as an example).

  8. At first I was pretty mad about this, but does anyone think this ruling is actually going to change things? Doesn’t everyone think the world is already ran by these shlubs? Aren’t we now just being above board with it?

    • Sure, we’re now above board with which corporation is donating to which candidate. These donations are something that’s always happened; starting yesterday, everyone can be out in the open, or as far in the open as they dare. (In this political climate, who’s really going to be printing on every campaign flyer they’re getting money from, for example, Goldman Sachs?)

      It’s what else this ruling, this creation of a corporate “personhood”, implies that I’m concerned about. As far as I know, Blackwater/Xe (to use the most obvious example, the example that best illustrates my concerns above) has operated overseas at the behest of the American government. If corporations can now openly, legally influence the political process without interference from the government because they have all the free speech rights of a individual person, can they also have the right to keep and bear arms without interference from the government? Instead of Iraqis or Pashtuns, can Blackwater/Xe use those arms to protect themselves against us if we, or our elected representatives, decide to cancel their contract?

      There are a lot of Republicans/conservatives/teabaggers who, despite their anti-government rhetoric–anti-Democratic government really–apparently think this decision is good for the republic. Corporations can now “defend” themselves. Oh, joy. What the hell we do when corporations decide to acquire the other rights enumerated by the Constitution? Thanks to the activist conservative judges on the Supreme Court, they can.

      • Public sentiment shifted against the Republicans, 2006 forward, and so corporate funding of campaigns shifted to Democrats. Obama took $20 million from the insurance industry and has been fighting hard to pass their bill.

        That’s how absurd we are. They call it health care “reform” when it is a corporate bill.

        This ruling is intellectually dishonest, of course. And it is honest too, since it just shines light on the existing situation.

        But it is frightening as well, since they are saying “This is how it is and you cannot change it.” It’s an expression of raw and naked power. The corporations and the government have come out in the open now and stated openly what was known privately. It’s the last words of Animal House – pigs and farmers now all look the same.

      • Corporate personhood and money-is-speech are nothing new. SCOTUS long ago decided those two ideas existed within the Constitution.

        What’s disturbing is wondering what else this “conservative” court will find in a document they supposedly view as black&white (eminent domain anyone?). Where will the Roberts/Scalia court stop?

        • Strict constructionists and originalists my ass; when they were writing the Bill of Rights, I highly doubt James Madison or Thomas Jefferson thought, “Okay, I’m an individual, he’s an individual, John Q. Smith over there’s an individual, and Ye Olde Boar’s Head Tavern in Trenton is an individual, too.” Talk about reading things into the Constitution.

  9. problembear

    we have the power to bring all corporations to their knees by simply not buying their products.

    when the left and the right finally join in turning against the machines, their doom will be sealed. that will be a long time off however, if ever.

    right now, we should simply not vote for candidates who use their money. if we, the electorate, do our jobs, the ruling will be rendered useless if the support of corporations is considered plutonium by campaigns and the media.

    just like tough-love counselors remind victims:
    the corporations can do very little to us without our permission.

    • Pretty lofty goal there p-bear. And while we agree in spirit let’s be honest and admit that this won’t happen. I think the easier solution is one Jello Biafra came up with a decade ago: make politicians wear NASCAR jumpsuits emblazoned with their “sponsors” names. It’s win-win. The RedStates love NASCAR, and progressives like knowing who to blame.

  10. Big Swede

    You guys want to burn books?

    • One truly good point brought up by this clip is that the Citizens United film was to be distributed on pay-per-view CABLE, not terrestrial broadcast. The people wanting to view it had to pay for it (as if anyone who was on the fence about Hillary would have). It was not something that we’d all have to watch because it was beamed directly to us without a choice.

      If there is one thing that hopefully comes from this bad move by the court it will hopefully be the precedent that the FEC cannot control cable content as it does terrestrial broadcasts (ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox to some degree).

      But, that said, it would be the sugar sprinkles on a heaping pile of right wing BS.

  11. problembear

    the far right is duped into thinking that corporate freedom to finance elections protect freedom for all, as a sort of principal when in fact, the original tea party was just the sort of rebellious act against just such an unholy alliance between commerce and government which sought to oppress us in the first place.

    we come full circle into the age of absurdity when those who advertise themselves as the protectors of freedom are complicit with those who seek to enslave us.

    we feed the conveyor belt of profit. and when it is interrupted by the very people who contribute it’s life-blood, then and only then, will the machines who seek to dominate us weaken and die. corporations have no conscience. they have no interest in preserving freedom. in fact, if they could force us to purchase their products as the health insurers nearly did, they would.

    to take the side of the corporations in this argument is to argue for a government every bit as oppressive as king george of england imposed upon our founding fathers.

    • problembear

      and really big swede? the cato institute? that batch of doddering fools is so corporate financed that any gassy “so-called study” that belches out of it’s addled and convoluted environs is considered suspect by all but the most duped individuals.

      i consider the cato institute in the same light as i would consider the opinion of a chicken pecking at the green light to get a piece of corn.

  12. problembear

    what is it with you righties and the old testament swede?

    the teachings of JC too generous toward “the wicked” for you?

    “judge not, lest ye be judged.”

    • JC

      I taught no such thing.

      It was “judge first, lest ye be judged.” Those scribes had such a tough time with cuneiform and clay tabs and all…

      sorry, spent too long at the hot springs this weekend

  13. Lizard

    the only people who should be disappointed are the ones who expected a different outcome.

    but before we start talking about constitutional amendments, i think it’s critical to acknowledge that the staggering abuses of power perpetrated against the constitution and we, the people, by the bush administration are being established as a bipartisan consensus by obama’s administration.

    check out glenn greenwald’s latest piece, entitled: Obama to Indefinitely Imprison Detainees Without Charges i find it quite phenomenal that obama can still be successfully painted as “a liberal” by psycho rightwingers as he skillfully facilitates the same shredding of our once lauded constitutional guarantees. it’s really dumbfounding.

    this supreme court decision, as disgusting as it is, is really just one piece in a much broader push that began before bush and continues now under obama, a constitutional lawyer who should know better.

  14. The key battle on this was the confirmation of Alito. Democrats had the power to stop him, and chose not to out of deference for Bush. Their bad.

  15. This is when the battle was lost, from Wikipedia:

    Some Democratic Senators who opposed the Alito nomination considered using a filibuster option in the attempt to block the nomination. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said, “The filibuster’s on the table.” While other Senators warned not to rush to a decision, Dick Durbin (D-IL) said “I don’t think we should assume that’s going to happen at all.” He added, “Ordinarily it takes six to eight weeks to evaluate a Supreme Court nominee. We shouldn’t rush to judgment.”

    At the conclusion of the confirmation hearings, January 12, the threat of a filibuster appeared to grow more remote as Durbin called a filibuster attempt “unlikely”. Judiciary Committee member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said, “I do not see a likelihood of a filibuster…This might be a man I disagree with, but it doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be on the court.” She changed her position on January 27, saying that she would vote no for cloture. Fellow Judiciary Committee member Joe Biden (D-DE) said, “I think he is going to be confirmed.” Other Democrats such as Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Ken Salazar (D-CO), Daniel Akaka (D-HI), and Byron Dorgan (D-ND), however, said they would not support a filibuster, though they all voted against confirmation. In addition, Senators Mark Pryor (D-AR), Kent Conrad (D-ND), and Joe Biden (D-DE) indicated that they did not support a filibuster. Later, however, Joe Biden announced on the 29th that he would vote no for cloture.

    Senator John Kerry (D-MA) called for a filibuster to block Alito’s nomination on Thursday, January 26. Despite the support of his fellow Massachusetts Senator, Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY)[5][6][7] and Harry Reid (D-NV), the top Democrat in the Senate, other Democrats were afraid the measure would backfire and were cautious to support it. Just one day after Kerry’s call for a filibuster, Reid further stated that the Democrats did not have the votes needed to sustain a filibuster to block the confirmation of Alito. “We’re going to have a vote Tuesday morning,” Reid said. “Everyone knows there are not enough votes to support a filibuster.”

    A motion to invoke cloture and end debate was made on Friday, January 27, and passed on Monday, January 30 by a vote of 72-24 with four senators not voting (including Republican John Ensign, who had been injured in a car accident earlier that day). All of the members of the Gang of Fourteen voted for cloture with the majority. The final confirmation vote occurred on Tuesday, January 31, with the nomination approved by a vote of 58 to 42.

  16. problembear

    the oldest corporation in the world began as the knights templar (a protectionist army of the vatican) during the crusades… even issued the first credit cards to noblemen who traveled from fortress to fortress (the first Hilton’s) so that robbers could not steal their money while
    on the road.

    does this mean we will have candidates sponsored by the catholic church now?

    this decision brings us from whatever facade we once had of democracy to medieval rule – aristocracy and noblemen protected by knights. peasants and serfs used as cannon fodder and slaves.

  17. problembear

    sorry about the link not working. here it is copied….

    a bill introduced by alan grayson

    111th CONGRESS

    2d Session

    H. R. 4431

    To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to impose a 500 percent excise tax on corporate contributions to political committees and on corporate expenditures on political advocacy campaigns.


    January 13, 2010

    Mr. GRAYSON introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on Ways and Means

    A BILL

    To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to impose a 500 percent excise tax on corporate contributions to political committees and on corporate expenditures on political advocacy campaigns.

    Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


    This Act may be cited as the `Business Should Mind Its Own Business Act’.


    (a) In General- Chapter 36 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (relating to certain other excise taxes) is amended by adding at the end the following new subchapter:

    `Subchapter E–Certain Corporate Political Activities

    `Sec. 4491. Corporate contributions to political committees and corporate expenditures on political advocacy campaigns.


    `(a) In General- In the case of a corporation, there is hereby imposed a tax equal to 500 percent of the aggregate of the following amounts:

    `(1) The amount of contributions (as defined in section 301 of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971) made during the taxable year.

    `(2) The amount paid for an electioneering communication described in section 304(f)(3) of such Act.

    `(b) Certain Determinations Disregarded- For purposes of this section, any court determination that such Act does not apply to one or more corporations shall be disregarded.’.

    (b) Denial of Income Tax Deduction- Subsection (a) of section 275 of such Code is amended by inserting after paragraph (6) the following new paragraph:

    `(7) Taxes imposed by section 4491 (relating to corporate contributions to political committees and corporate expenditures on political advocacy campaigns).’.

    (c) Clerical Amendment- The table of subchapters for chapter 36 of such Code is amended by adding at the end the following new item:

    `subchapter e. certain corporate political activities.’.

    (d) Effective Date- The amendments made by this section shall apply to amounts paid after the date of the enactment of this Act in taxable years ending after such date.

    Next Hit Forward New Bills Search
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  18. Big Swede

    Are you sure you guys want to sign this petition?

    After all its the Dems that take the lead in corp. donations.,+2010+Cycle

    You’re welcome, Mark.

    • JC

      Dems lead, cuz there’s more of them, BS.

      • Big Swede

        18 out of 22, JC?

        Is the the ratio in DC?

        • JC

          You miss my point.

          Donations flow to those in the majority, as they are the ones that will be moving legislation.

          Dems are in the majority, therefore they need to be bought. Your table proves that. Or does your link to the chart really prove anything?

          Actually, I like my chart better. After all it’s the republicans that take the lead in corp. donations. 21 of 27 republicans:

          Context is everything BS. Got any?

          • Whoa, wait there JC…. sure you want to make a claim that Dems will be moving legislation?


          • JC

            Wait… were they paid to “move” legislation? I missed that memo… Didn’t the stock market boom last week for health insurers after Scott Brown won?

            More like all that money is spent to put dems at cross purposes, so that nothing gets done that might lower stock prices.

    • Mark t

      Welcome to the debate at long last.

  19. Pronghorn

    Perhaps this was already mentioned in the many comments above–if so, sorry for the duplication…

    Breaking News! Rep. Donna Edwards announces bill to overrule the Supreme Court via Constitutional Amendment (see video). Rep. Leonard Boswell also announces plan.

    For those so inclined, this is interesting reading: “The Hijacking of the 14th Amendment”

    Click to access fourteenth_amendment_hammerstrom.pdf

    “Of the 150 cases involving the Fourteenth Amendment heard by the Supreme Court up to the Plessy v. Ferguson case in 1896 that established the legal standing of “separate but equal,” 15 involved blacks and 135 involved business entities. The scope of the Fourteenth Amendment to secure the political rights of former slaves was so restricted by the Supreme Court that blacks won only one case. The expansive view of the Fourteenth Amendment that comes down to Constitutional Law classes today is the result of corporations using the Fourteenth Amendment as a shield against regulation. Ultimately the Plessy decision left Jim Crow laws, state laws discriminating against blacks, in place because of doctrines developed in those corporate shield cases.”

  20. The majority opinion in last week’s ruling noted that there’s no practical way to distinguish a media corporation from any other corporation. For example, Procter and Gamble, Microsoft, and Berkshire Hathaway all own media interests. Consequently, the dissenters’ argument (implicit in Pete’s post, I think) introduces the possibility that an overreaching government might suppress political speech in newspapers, on television news programs, in books and on blogs. After all, the corporations that operate them would have no guaranteed speech rights. Do we really want to live in a country where the Missoula Independent candidate endorsements exist only because the government’s graciously allowed us a special privilege?

    What about nonprofits? It seems to me that Planned Parenthood should be able to speak freely on matters of reproductive policy. Would you revoke their fundamental right to stake out issue-oriented turf?

    And this blog? To the degree that it relies on WordPress and Automattic, Inc., its corporate parents, it would be vulnerable, too, in its present configuration. None of us would have any right to be here writing under their umbrella.

    The Supreme Court’s recent ruling might be scary, but the alternative doesn’t seem very attractive either. I don’t think I can support a constitutional amendment that would limit corporate speech rights.

    Matt Gibson
    Independent Publishing, Inc.

    • Small corps and not-for-profits should not be used as human shields for Exxon/Mobil and Microsoft. That’s disingenuous. SCOTUS is acting like major corporations came down with God on a machine and that we are viewing them with reverence from a distance. In fact, we are God – we created them, they are our servant, not our master. We can regulate them in any way we see fit, put them out of existence, tax them, muffle them – we have that power. The only problem is that they have amassed so much power that they are being set free by the Federalist Society.

      The argument about news corporations is a red herring. They are protected as the “4th” estate and have been from the beginning. No one is threatening the status of corporate news, such as it is.

  21. petetalbot

    For a simple chart explaining what this ruling does, go here and click on the graphic about two-thirds of the way down the story (sorry, had one hell of a time directly linking to the chart). It outlines what changes with this ruling.

    And I believe these changes are significant: mainly a flood of direct corporate advertising in the days before an election.

    And Matt Gibson, I really don’t see the parallel between AIG throwing up thousands of 30-second TV spots and me hammering out a post on a blog. Isn’t that reaching a bit?

    • klemz

      See this is what I’m talking about. Pete, you just made a one line substanceless dismissal of a theoretical viewpoint held by 4.5 of Supreme Court justices (Kennedy swings both ways). According to this court’s interpretation of the First Amendment, which is law, not per se, they are the same protected rights now. It stands to reason then that the same court, reading an amendment abridging those rights, might interpret it strictly to validate acts of Congress irrespective of adverse policy effects.

      You don’t have to agree with originalism, but you have to recognize it as part of the framework in which we are now discussing these issues.

      • petetalbot

        Let me see if I have this right, klemz and Matt. Before this ruling, because corporations weren’t afforded all the 1st Amendment rights as individuals, anyone writing or broadcasting news or opinion on some corporately owned newspaper, website or broadcast venue was in jeopardy. Now, with corporations granted the same 1st Amendment right of free speech, we can breath easier.

        And since we’re discussing originalism, there’s that pesky “freedom of the press” line in the First Amendment which holds true — both before and after the ruling.

        And since newsrooms from the three major networks (I don’t include Fox), and other journalists have derided the SCOTUS opinion, I guess they don’t share your reaction that with this new ruling allows us greater freedoms than before — we won’t have to worry now that Congress or the courts will muzzle books, blogs, etc.

        Now I’m no Constitutional scholar, like Rob Natelson, but that’s what I see you guys saying and I don’t buy it.

        • problembear

          agreed pete:

          sometimes you can over think something to the point of absurdity.

          common sense works for me.
          but, to each his own.

          i am a little concerned that the country as a whole seems to be becoming a tower of babel about a lot of important things that should be no brainers. it is frustrating to see all this intelligence wasted on such bad ideas.

          • klemz

            No you don’t have it right. If you scroll up, you’ll see that I support an amendment abridging certain corporate rights. I’m an originalist and believe this was the right decision, but I’m not a fan of the result (such is the law sometimes).

            However, I do share the concern that any attempted amendment by this Congress would overreach. Though, my worry isn’t the corporate press so much as the rights currently protected by the Due Process clause of the 14th Amendment. Corporate property rights need to remain untouched, along with most of the First and Fifth Amendments.

        • Yes, Pete. That’s it precisely, as far as I understand it. And Justice Kennedy said as much in the majority opinion. Matt T’s contention elsewhere in this thread that concerns about infringements on press freedoms are some kind of red herring in this context ignores the explicit warnings of the majority of Supreme Court justices. Kennedy spells is out clearly in the ruling.

          If we strip free speech rights from corporations, then the vast majority of newspapers and broadcasters will have no free speech rights, nonprofits will have no free speech rights, and bloggers operating under a corporate aegis will have no free speech rights. If the government subsequently passed a measure to limit the First Amendment freedoms of those corporations, citizens would have no recourse in court.

          • If we strip free speech rights from corporations, then the vast majority of newspapers and broadcasters will have no free speech rights, nonprofits will have no free speech rights, and bloggers operating under a corporate aegis will have no free speech rights.

            Unless you can point to some situation in the 234 year of this country where freedom of the press was ever an issue even as major corporations became the “press”, it is not an issue. It is a red herring.

            To say that my free speech rights are dependent on Exxon/Mobil’s is to use me as a human shield, and is pure sophistry.

          • Mark,

            You seem to be saying that we don’t need to worry about potential limitations on corporate speech rights infringing on press freedoms because it’s never happened before. Isn’t that a little bit like keeping your fingers crossed? To me, that’s not a sufficient guarantee of our fundamental freedoms.

            I don’t think I ever suggested that your free speech rights were somehow dependent on Exxon/Mobil’s or any other corporation. What I have suggested is that blogging on 4 & 20 and Piece of Mind could be affected by restrictions on the political speech of WordPress and Automattic, Inc, which operate the site. To overstate my claim, add a rhetorical dash that makes me sound like an intellectual terrorist, and then call my opinion sophistry puts you in the same discursive stance as the “death panel” demagogues.

          • Corporations are our creation, not something that landed on the planet from the moon. We can regulate them as we please. To suggest that there is some threat to all of our freedoms because we don’t grant them rights that were never intended for them, adn then claim that a threat to individual rights exists because corporations are not protect is sophistry. The sophists were Greeks whose job it was to create arguments for power – clever people who could twist a simple idea into a pretzel. That’s all that’s going on here. We’re being pretzeled. Sorry if you take offense – none intended – just an objective treatment of your argument.

    • Ryan Morton

      petetalbot: “And I believe these changes are significant: mainly a flood of direct corporate advertising in the days before an election.”

      is this really what we’re rumbling about? a flood of direct corporate advertising? how is that different from any other day? i don’t think the ruling is trivial or anything, but the day our biggest problem in life is a flood of corporate advertising is a pretty dull day. my advice: ignore corporate advertising – political or otherwise.

      anyhow, i’ve been thinking about this in another way: checks and balances. the SCOTUS basically sent a message to the elected legislators and executive that they can’t legislate WHAT messages we hear or FROM WHOM during their campaigns. on face, i think that’s good. but further, the elected have a clear interest in WHAT messages are sent out during their campaigns. allowing elected officials to ban political speech during campaigns they’ll likely have to run in looks like a big no-no to me.

  22. The argument about news corporations is a red herring.

    • Ryan Morton

      so if news corporations can editorialize about and endorse candidates in the days leading up to the election, what difference does it make if other types of corporations, organizations, and groups do as well?

      • News organizations are protected by the first amendment and have been since the beginning. There is not threat. To bring it up now is, as I said, a red herring.

        • Ryan Morton

          so, the only difference is first amendment protection? i guess my point was that there is no substantive (as in the substance of the speech) difference between fox news editorialism versus other forms of corporate editorialism. or is there? i’m open to the idea, but i’ve never thought of it that way.

          • JC

            The Washington Post isn’t out organizing tea bagger rallies like Fox, for starters.

          • problembear

            the question to me is the expectation of inherent quid pro quo when a corporate contribution is made directly to politicians.

            who then represents people?

            any politician which bucks this trend will simply be climbing out on a dangerous limb which corporations can then saw down at will by funding their opponents in the next election. eventually we will have only corporate representation.

          • Ryan Morton

            p-bear – the ruling doesn’t change contribution rules. although repeating that again and again expecting a different outcome is, by definition, insane, i’ll keep saying it. :-)

            JC – you’re being non-responsive to the question. how is fox news editorial different than aig editorial or microsoft editorial or other corporate editorials? i’m not asking about the difference between the wp and fox news. mark suggested news corporation editorial is ‘not threat’ though i think he meant to type ‘no threat.’

            mark – what exactly IS the threat of corporate political speech during elections? (not contributions, p-bear)

          • It’s always been a touchy area. Prior to this ruling, the line was drawn at “educational activities”, the difference between a 501c(3) and a501(c)4, but don’t quote me on that.

            But the primary idea was that the government was extremely hesitant to openly suppress the press, so that outfits like FOX, that skirted the line, are safe.

            This decision changes many things. But your seeming idea that there was some kind of inherent unfairness in regulating corporate political activities is very questionable.

            Anyhow, we’re corporate now, and have been for decades. Corporations own the electoral process, the media, and now the candidates themselves. That’s a nice mixture of both neoliberalism and neoconservatism. We’re pretty much f*****. But it’s been coming for years.

          • The problem of corporate contributions is the simple fact that because they are collectives with special legal protections, they are allowed to accumulate huge sums of cash. Accumulation laws have long been dead letters.

            Having the ability to outspend everyone else gives them an unfair advantage in the political arena, in fact is a license to kill.

            Other countries, such as Canada, limit political campaign spending for precisely this reason – to level the playing field.

            And don’t even go to the idea that advertising is in any meaningful way a means of expressive ideas. It is psychological manipulation. Trust me, corporate America is already very good at it.

          • JC

            Well, you had two questions. I answered the second.

            I think it is substantive when a corporation creates news, then reports on it like it was a disinterested third party. That’s deceptive, and it breaks the trust needed for a news media outlet to have with the public it is trying to inform. It becomes pure propaganda at that point. Not that propaganda should lose protection. Just that a corporation indulging in propaganda should expect to be attacked.

            There is a danger inherent in the notion that a corporation, whose main business is not news, should engage in faux journalism. And that is at the heart of this case. I’m not yet ready to come to conclusions about what it all means, as I’ve got a lot more learning and reading to do.

            As to the first question, I think that I have always been perturbed when a “newspaper” casts an editorial for or against a candidate. But when an individual writing in or for a newspaper does that, then it becomes personal. I don’t care about corporate opinions. I care about what people think.

            I’ve got a lot to think about and say to that last point: Here’s something I wrote about a year ago here:

            The Missoulian should get off its high horse with unsigned editorials. They’re fine for talking about non-controversial issues. But once again, I’ll dredge up this quote from one of the Missoulian’s finest “signed” editors [of the ’70’s-80’s]:

            How did Sam Reynolds put it?

            “Sam Reynolds of the Missoulian coined the phrase “editorial transubstantiation” to describe the belief (incredible to him) that an unsigned editorial can express the opinion of something so impersonal as a newspaper. It was like the leap of faith, he said, that is involved in believing that bread and wine are transubstantiated into the blood and body of Christ.”

            “Editorial Transubstantiation.”

            I love it. So very apropos here.

          • klemz

            “There is a danger inherent in the notion that a corporation, whose main business is not news, should engage in faux journalism. And that is at the heart of this case.”

            Slippery slope toward regulation. Someone would still have to determine which news is faux and which is vrai.

  23. petetalbot

    “As advertised on TV”

    I saw that on a bunch of products on the shelves of a discount store. Why? Because TV is an amazingly powerful medium. It legitimizes products, people and ideas. I know this because, as a former TV producer, it’s how our company pitched, got and kept clients.

    But I digress.

    Ryan says, “a flood of direct corporate advertising? how is that different from any other day?”

    It’s WAY different if your promoting candidates or issues, and not toothpaste. I’ve seen it happen often in Montana. A grassroots initiative is up ten points in the beginning of a campaign. In the two weeks before the election, its corporate opponent spends millions of dollars on a TV blitz. The initiative goes down by ten points.

    Ryan says, “my advice: ignore corporate advertising – political or otherwise.” Ahh, if it were only true. Read The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan.

    Finally, Ryan says, “so if news corporations can editorialize about and endorse candidates in the days leading up to the election, what difference does it make if other types of corporations, organizations, and groups do as well?”

    Legitimate news organizations (I exclude Fox) try to maintain some sort of balance. And on the opinion side of a legitimate news organization, which is a small component of their content, it makes at least a half hearted attempt to include other views.

    Corporate political advertising knows no bounds. You’ve seen it: thirty, sixty, ninety second spots running a dozen times an hour, 24-hours-a-day.

    What this ruling says is: dollars equal free speech. It’s a ruinous opinion.

    • Ryan Morton

      ok so my mind is controlled by advertising – check.

      government should decide what messages i can see during elections – check.

      political ideology drives the government action to regulate the messages i can see – check.

      even if we could change parts of the system now, it’s pointless – check and mate. what’s a boy to do? ::sad panda face::

      • Well, yeah you know people get really pissed off when you tell them that advertising actually works and is not even in the least straightforward but rather manipulative and that the people who do advertising, like, you know, the people who designed the Obama campaign (Advertising campaign of the year, 2008-I kid you not) actually know what they are doing.

        I’ve never met a person affected by advertising. That is why it’s a trillion dollar industry. It doesn’t work!

        The ones most susceptible to it are those who think themselves immune.

        • Ryan Morton

          you presume and assume far too much, mark. i’m plenty aware of advertising, public discourse, and the use of messages in public sense-making rituals. save me the lectures. i already went to grad school for communication studies once.

          • Fortunately for all of us, most Americans are taught critical thinking and advertising resistance in school, and most go on to study communication itself, as did you apparently. These mountains of corporate cash will not be manipulating us via symbolism and psychological manipulation.

            Thanks. You put my mind at ease.

    • Ryan Morton

      ok, joking aside…

      i still trust voters can use a discerning eye during elections and that we don’t need government telling us what messages we can and cannot see. further, it’s more dangerous for people to advocate that they “know best” about what messages should or should not be presented to the public. i can agree to disagree with what people have written here, but i simply don’t see the impending doom or any hope of a convincing argument saying as much.

      so, time for me to unplug… at least til bresnan brings me my damn digital cable box on thursday. mmmm… commercial free dvr…

      • The government was not telling us what to think. It was simply leveling the playing field. We’re topsy turvey now, and your notions about the wisdom of the common man aside, I think that a bad situation just got much worse.

      • JC

        You gotta figure out how to program the 30 sec skip first…

        And advertisers have figured out that even the split second image of their brand that you see as you hit skip again? That’s enough of an imprint for them to still judge you as having seen enough to get their point across. And pay their tithe to the network.

  24. problembear

    Just want to say this was a good discourse.

    Disagreement but with humor and respectful of everyone’s opinion.

    Somewhat informative and thought provoking as well.


  25. Just wanted to make sure we hit one hundred on this thread.


  26. problembear

    might as well end this with our new national-corporate song of the day…

    will everyone please place their right hand on their wallet and stand for our new national anthem….

    • Ryan Morton

      i haven’t heard cake in forever. my national anthem would more likely be his cover of ‘i will survive.’ i’m old school like that.

      if you can find it, you might enjoy poster children’s ’21st century.’ i think it was written in the 20th century, but who’s counting?

  27. problembear

    great reasoned discussion of the scotus decision to “personify” corporations…

  1. 1 Ah, those darned loveable silly progressives! « Piece Of Mind

    […] #2: Sign an Internet petition. Such activities are useless to the exact degree that they are easy. Think of it this way: The […]

  2. 2 take action – free speech - buzztail

    […] Pete over at 4&20 blackbirds posted a petition calling for a constitutional amendment saying no way to this travesty. You can read it, and sign it over here. […]

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