Friday, January 22, 2010

Free speech a' gogo

Large portions of the McCain-Fiengold campaign finance law were struck down by the Supreme Court yesterday as they ruled against CFRA (Campaign Finance Reform Act) restrictions on labor and corporate political contributions.

The Supreme Court has ruled that corporations may spend freely to support or oppose candidates for president and Congress, easing decades-old limits on their participation in federal campaigns.

By a 5-4 vote, the court on Thursday overturned a 20-year-old ruling that said corporations can be prohibited from using money from their general treasuries to pay for campaign ads. The decision, which almost certainly will also allow labor unions to participate more freely in campaigns, threatens similar limits imposed by 24 states.

The justices also struck down part of the landmark McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill that barred union- and corporate-paid issue ads in the closing days of election campaigns.

The last paragraph interested us the most because it involved a group called Citizens United and their movie, an anti-Hillary bit, “Hillary: the Movie” (clever) and the question of whether they could air that movie within 30 days of a general election as prohibited by CFRA.

Here’s Justice Stevens writing for the dissent:
The real issue in this case concerns how, not if, the appellant may finance its electioneering. Citizens United is a wealthy nonprofit corporation that runs a political action committee (PAC) with millions of dollars in assets. Under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), it could have used those assets to televise and promote Hillary: The Movie wherever and whenever it wanted to. It also could have spent unrestricted sums to broadcast Hillary at any time other than the 30 days before the last primary election. Neither Citizens United’s nor any other corporation’s speech has been “banned,” ante, at 1. All that the parties dispute is whether CitizensUnited had a right to use the funds in its general treasury to pay for broadcasts during the 30-day period. The notion that the First Amendment dictates an affirmative answer to that question is, in my judgment, profoundly misguided.

Of course, the 1st amendment does not give an affirmative answer as to whether its lawful to run this movie within 30 days of an election – the 1st amendment is negative in nature, as in, Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech which 5 of the Supremes have rightly concluded includes politically-themed movies from corporations whose owners wish to run 30, 25, 1 day before or even on the day of an election.

If CFRA dictates that free speech is prohibited within 30 days of a general election, it most certainly qualifies as banning free speech. How can it not be?

And why does Stevens see fit to mention that Citizens United is wealthy? What bearing does that have in his decision?

Years back, a local pol, in defending CFRA cited all those commercials the public is bombarded by both on T.V. and radio in the closing days of an election cycle. It’s like an overwhelming amount of information or something. Well, excuse us for objecting to what you may think we find objectionable. It was nanny-state politics at its worse. If you don’t like all those commercials on T.V. then turn the channel or, better, turn it off. And too much information? Its called democracy and it’s not supposed to be easy. Turn off the damn television, pick up the voter guide and educate yourself.

And cue howls of outrage from the Left about how elections will now be hi-jacked by corporations, Wall St. and big business, in general, which all dovetails quite nicely with the President’s current War on Wall St.

However, the idea that CFRA did anything at all to curtail the amount of money being spent on elections was illusory, anyway. If records are made to be broken, then laws were made to have loopholes. One of the feel-good elements of CFRA was that it would cut back on negative attack ads. Because CFRA restricted how much money could be donated to a candidate, 527s like sprung up and started shoveling money into efforts that were against candidates resulting in a proliferation of the very negative campaigning that CFRA was supposed to tamp down.

At the end of the day, the appearances of too much money in politics is not the problem, it is merely the symptom of the problem.

We’re breaking out a truism regarding politics that has been on ice for a while as we’ve been tackling other issues but it goes something like this: You will never curtail the amount of money in poltics until you curtail the power and influence of politics/government by a corresponding degree.

Money in politics is a quid pro quo arrangement and until you dial back that return on investment ratio, you will never, repeat, never, dial back on the amount of money that flows into politics.

B-Daddy, who has been a strident critic of CFRA has his thoughts on the matter here.

P.S. Efforts are underway as we speack to amend the 1st amendment so that corporate speech is deemed separate from individual free speech and letting Congress dictate what is and isn't free speech. Gulp.


B-Daddy said...

Dean, thanks for the link. Those efforts to limit corporate spending, will either be found unconstitutional or repeat the last cycle of creating cottage industries for recycling campaign cash to circumvent the law. Money never left politics, it merely went underground. Isn't transparency better? That's what candidate Obama said, not the guy who is President now.

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