Sonny noted earlier that he literally cannot fathom objections to a Supreme Court ruling that strikes down restraints on freedom of speech. I’m no constitutional scholar, but let me try to do some fathoming. The following points are all borrowed directly from Kevin Drum. who comes at this from a liberal Democratic perspective. First,
There’s no question that political speech is at the core of the First Amendment. Restricting commercial speech is one thing, but restricting political speech, no matter who’s doing it, ought to raise much louder alarm bells. On a practical level, there’s also the question of whether campaign finance laws even work.
The key question is whether, from the perspective of campaign finance, it makes sense to treat massive organizations the same as single individuals.
I’m just enough of a First Amendment fundamentalist to believe that there are plausible arguments for allowing corporations to make political contributions; just enough of a realist to think that it might not make as much difference as a lot of people think; and just enough of a cynic to think that corporations might not be as eager to spend huge pots of political money in plain view of their customers as you might suppose.
On the other hand, I’m not credulous enough to think that modern multinational corporations are mere voluntary assemblies of concerned citizens who deserve to be treated the same way as the local PTA. The world is what it is, and in a practical sense corporations have such enormous power that it would be foolhardy in the extreme to think that we can just blindly provide them with the same rights as individuals and then let the chips fall where they may.
Kevin doesn’t raise the issue of labor unions, but I think it’s important, because the example of unions reminds us that the question here isn’t whether profit-seeking organizations deserve unrestricted rights to political speech. The question is whether any powerful collective body should have those rights.
I don’t have any answers to the questions I’ve raised. But that’s my point. I don’t think it’s entirely obvious that the court should’ve struck down the precedents its did.
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