In a major campaign finance case, the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that corporations have the same rights as individuals.
In his weekly audio commentary, Chris Satullo is still puzzling over that one …
Listen: [audio: satullo20100214.mp3]
I invited Archer Daniels Midland to a ballgame the other day.
All I got back was a brochure about ethanol.
I tried to friend Cigna Corp. on Facebook. Its reply? An explanation of benefits form.
I asked Boeing to go see Avatar with me. The RSVP was an email extolling its new 787.
And I asked Cisco Systems if it could pick up my mail while I was away. What I got was a Web link to its product page..
So I’m a little confused by the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision that huge multinational corporations are just the same as your neighbor next door.
These corporations aren’t like any flesh-and-blood person I know.
Yet in the Citizens United case, a 5-4 majority ruled that corporations have precisely the same First Amendment rights of political speech as you or me or the guy down the street.
Except, of course, under this ruling, Archer Daniels Midland will get to exercise its free speech a million big-footing bucks at a time. And don’t think your average lawmaker will forget that when it’s time to dole out tax breaks..
The court struck down rules that limited how corporations and unions could spend on those slick and often nasty TV ads that seek to tilt elections.
This came in a case the justices could have decided narrowly, instead of choosing to blow up decades of precedent.
Chief Justice John Roberts, he of the earnest vows to avoid judicial activism, was part of this radical majority. Stick a photo of his bland smile in the dictionary, next to the word “hypocrite.”
This ruling traffics in two legal fictions. One is that corporations are the same as individuals. In some legal contexts, this makes sense. But it’s absurd to extend the fiction to elections, in which only individual citizens, not corporations, have a right to vote.
The second fiction is that money equals speech. I have a free speech right to stick a candidate’s bumper sticker on my car, or to blog on her behalf. But to claim Cigna is doing qualitatively the same thing when it buys a national TV ad blasting a candidate’s stand on health care – well, that’s absurd, too. This purchase dilutes my free speech, makes it nearly meaningless.
On campaign law, Supreme Court justices often seem to live in la-la land. I hope this majority is merely clueless.
It’s scarier to think the five justices know exactly what they’re doing.