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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Democrats should be for free speech

Published: January 22, 2010
Section: Opinions

<i>GRAPHIC BY Ariel Wittenberg/The Hoot</i>

GRAPHIC BY Ariel Wittenberg/The Hoot

At the time of publication, I have been assaulted with news of epic proportions and far-reaching political ramifications. It was predicted beforehand, though at one time unthinkable, and the conclusion alters decades of elections norm.

And no, it’s not that Scott Brown beat Martha Coakley. (Maybe we’ll have an equally smart and progressive candidate with slightly better mass-marketing skills to bat off the fly in two years. Granted, President Give-Up-On Health-Care will be on the ballot, but it should bring out the base to make sure everyone votes. No one truly believes more people living here agree with Scott Brown).

But in what will be the biggest political development of the year (crossing my fingers), the Supreme Court yesterday threw out the longstanding edict banning corporations, unions and other groups from spending money to influence candidate elections throughout the country–a stark change from over a century of limits on nearly every kind of political speech by corporations and these other advocates, including ads not being shown 60 days before an election.

Now with money from shareholders’, members’ and donors’ general treasuries, executives, union leaders and NGO activist can spend at will, specifically endorsing a candidate, views and any other form of political speech most liberals wish to see exercised only by the physically present legal “person.” Attack ads, promotional literature and other appeals to voters will be maximized and multiplied for this year’s election cycle.

Many people, if fewer than at one time in our nation’s history, strongly identify with one political party. I am one of them: progressive Democrats all around the country are confused at what the party is doing, how its stance on a particular issue is averse to them and how the Dems are behaving cowardly. I am completely at odds with the Democratic conventional wisdom right now and they’re putting political considerations above what should be a right.

No, not health care (not by itself).

I am, seemingly alone in my party and circle of likeminded, not especially dismayed by yesterday morning’s decision at all.

The First Amendment doesn’t literally protect a person’s free speech: it prohibits the government from abridging speech. Speech. Which is real no matter if I buy a megaphone to sat it person out of my wallet or a group of shareholder-elected managers does from theirs. It’s hard, but true.

But enough, I’m going beyond Justice Scalia-esque constructivism. The First Amendment does a lot for all of us. It’s just a matter of fairness.

A corporation cannot stand for election or vote, and they are not as legally important as the individual person. But restrictivist advocates, from Common Cause to The New York Times, don’t mention that any group of people cannot do these things. They vote separately, but can certainly join together in trying to influence others’ political opinions. Political parties are an example, and there are those we’ve never even heard of doing this right now.

If I happen to be a shareholder (which I hope to never be able to say), so what: If my “any” group (say 4 people)’s shared wallets can be pooled to buy a really large sign for our Randomness Party candidate to hold up at the middle school voting place, certainly, by all means, you don’t feel threatened so it’s fair. But why can’t I do the same thing with my fellow two million fellow shareholders on some TV ad? Yes, these people are more conservative then we are, my fellow distressed-this-week liberals.

Yes, most vast multinational corporations favor Republicans (see political considerations, above). Yes, the conservative wing plus Kennedy are at the most hypocritical point in the Court’s recent history, always ranting about liberal activist judges, when they threw out a hundred years of their precious precedent including the far-off and irrelevant decision in…2003.

But it’s more honest this way. Plain and simple.

The true tragedy was that those corporations weren’t being punished anyways. Only the very biggest titans could get around restrictions and had a name large enough that even 61 days before Election Day they were heard. The decision will create “unprecedented opportunities for corporate ‘influence-buying’ corruption,” according to campaign finance control group Democracy 21’s president Fred Wertheimer in The Times. We’re all so thankful then, Fred, and those breaches weren’t allowed to happen in the health care debate.

The smaller companies and independent non-profits gained their rightful voices this morning. The former law in most instances restricted the Sierra Club environmental group from endorsing a candidate for their green record within the time frame, banned anti-poverty activists from coming out directly for a candidate on TV, and permitted the government to halt publication and remove books from the shelves if defined to be corporate-bought “electioneering communications.”

Plain and simple.

Free speech is all of ours (even as a group, in a joint treasury) whether we’re Wal-Mart or the ACLU. The point is that people should become informed voters anyways: If I’m rich, which will never happen, and I tell you how to vote (by a commercial in the middle of Grey’s Anatomy) right before you go out to vote, why do you listen to what I tell you at all? Because I’m rich?