Sunday, September 06, 2009

Corporate free speech? Since when?

"IF DANCING nude and burning the flag are protected by the First Amendment, why would it not protect robust speech about the people who are running for office?" So asks Theodore B. Olson, George W. Bush’s solicitor general until 2004. He is now the lead advocate for Citizens United, a nonprofit corporation that produced “Hillary: The Movie’’ to swift-boat Senator Clinton’s presidential campaign.

"Hillary" didn’t get much distribution because campaign-finance laws (such as McCain-Feingold) and court rulings (such as Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce) bar corporate-funded ads from elections. But now the Supreme Court will review Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission on Sept. 9. Free-speech absolutists, from the National Rifle Association to the American Civil Liberties Union, support Citizens United ’s claim that FEC restraints were unjustified.

But if they win, free speech will be drowned out by people most Americans won’t get to know.

She’s right, because a publicly traded business corporation, driven to maximize profits by market competition and its own charter, can’t rise above that mission any more than it can dance nude. Corporations aren’t “voluntary associations’’ with republican intentions, as Justice Antonin Scalia claims; in a civic sense, they’re mindless, because their shareholders change with every stock-price fluctuation.

This year showed us that a republic periodically has to save capitalism from itself. Corporations are creations of the republic, not its equals or superiors. We citizens charter them, protect them legally, subsidize them, and even bail them out - and punish them when, as with Pfizer Chemical, their profit-maximizing violates drug-safety rules.

We couldn’t do that if a level playing field of “robust speech’’ were overwhelmed by corporate speech, which isn’t free because corporations, unlike individuals, are not full-fledged members of the community. As inanimate entities, they are incapable of what the political philosopher Michael Sandel calls “a willingness to sacrifice individual interests for the sake of the common good, and the ability to deliberate well about common purposes and ends.’’

That’s why corporations can’t vote - and shouldn’t be able to use the wealth we let them amass to inundate our deliberations. TV ads telling us how deeply oil companies care about the environment aren’t part of open give-and-take; they’re efforts to cash in on a consensus that might not have emerged at all had corporate money dominated our elections and debates more than it does.

Read the rest at The Boston Globe

Please read Powell Memo: Text and Analysis

The Powell Memo - Manifesto for the corporate overthrow of American democracy, by Lewis Powell in 1971, shortly before Nixon appointed him to the Supreme Court. This is the founding document of Reaganism and the Bush corporatist dictatorship. Lewis Powell became the author of the 1978 5-4 majority opinion in the SCOTUS decision FNBofB v. Belloti, which further expanded "corporate personhood". Too many liberals are not knowledgeable about this history - but it is what got us to where we are today. What makes getting health care reform that will actually work and other legislation our nation needs so difficult.

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