Friday, January 22, 2010

A Supreme Victory for Special Interests.

So now, according to a stunning decision by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and his conservative court henchmen, corporations have the same right to free speech as individuals do.

The dissent was read by John Paul Stevens. And he points out that a case regarding the movie Hillary, has been expanded by these right wing justices to essentially push their own right wing political agenda:

He said the majority's "glittering generality" that corporate speech, like individual speech, is protected under the First Amendment was a "conceit" that is "not only inaccurate but also inadequate to justify the court's disposition of this case."

He wrote of his conservative colleagues' "agenda" and said they had transformed a simple case about whether a conservative group's movie about Hillary Rodham Clinton violated McCain-Feingold into a constitutional quandary. "Essentially, five justices were unhappy with the limited nature of the case before us, so they changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law."

Obama has spoken out forcefully against what he sees as "a green light to a new stampede of special interest money" whilst Republicans cheered this ruling, which gives some indication of just how political this decision is.
"It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans," the president said in a statement.
John Dean gives his opinion:
Chief Justice John Roberts, along with Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy (who wrote the court’s opinion), have gone out of their way to further obliterate serious efforts to reform out-of-control campaign spending—spending that conspicuously distorts democracy in favor of those who can buy political influence. This ruling is of the same judical activism ilk that produced Bush v. Gore, not to mention the ensuing eight years of a disastrous Bush/Cheney presidency from which the nation has yet to recover.
It is striking that the Bush administration, which often spoke of the danger of people creating laws from the bench, actually put in place the people who have gone on to do that very thing.

Slate comment here on what we have just witnessed, as they describe an exhausted Stevens reading his dissent:
But you can plainly see the weariness in Stevens eyes and hear it in his voice today as he is forced to contend with a legal fiction that has come to life today, a sort of constitutional Frankenstein moment when corporate speech becomes even more compelling than the "voices of the real people" who will be drowned out. Even former Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist once warned that treating corporate spending as the First Amendment equivalent of individual free speech is "to confuse metaphor with reality." Today that metaphor won a very real victory at the Supreme Court. And as a consequence some very real corporations are feeling very, very good.
Corporations, as Stevens rightly pointed out, "are not human beings" and "corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires." And yet this court has now ruled that their corporate spending is the First Amendment equivalent of individual free speech.

As if my voice and that of a corporation as large as Coca Cola can possibly be both as loud.

It's possibly the most astonishing act of judicial activism in American history. And it's come from the people appointed to the bench by a government which always decried this very thing.


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Here's Rachel Maddow on what we have just witnessed. As she points out, Obama has had great difficulty selling his healthcare plan because there has been so much disinformation put out regarding death panels and other nonsense.

This ruling will now allow corporations to spend unlimited amounts, possibly billions, to influence the political process.


Another thing which strikes me here is that, much as O'Reilly and Beck like to harp on about the "radical left", in the US there really is no such thing as far as I can see. The Democrats are always obsessed with governing from the centre, as Obama's attitude to the healthcare debate amply demonstrates.

In US politics, it appears to me, that the real radicals are almost always on the right of the political spectrum. This is yet another example which bears that theory out.


nunya said...

You might like this cartoon. It came out around the time of Roberts' confirmation in what was it '05 or '06?

Kel said...

Thanks for the cartoon, Nunya. Roberts really is a little right wing shit isn't he?

Steel Phoenix said...

It says right in the first amendment to our Constitution that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

I think this can clearly be seen as the people peaceably assembling to speak out via the press to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Corporations are tools of individuals. What is CNN if not a corporation? Why is it allowed to talk about politics? It's a corporation, not a person.

When we talk about freedom of the press, we are speaking about the printing press, and the right of an individual to make use of one freely, not about the broadcasting companies themselves. It is the individuals within CNN who are exercising their rights, using the collective as a tool. To prevent it would be to infringe on the rights of the individuals, not the entity as a whole. The same goes for the Sierra Club, or labor unions, or Coca Cola, should they desire to publish their opinion.

You are talking a lot about the possible repercussions of the law on politics, but that isn't the concern of the Supreme Court. They just make sure the Constitution is followed. I think they did so. If Congress wants to find a way to keep politics honest (ha ha), they could try adding some transparency instead of restricting speech.

Kel said...

What is CNN if not a corporation? Why is it allowed to talk about politics? It's a corporation, not a person.

Firstly, as CNN is a news organisation, it would be absurd to restrict them from talking about politics.

No-one, to my understanding, is arguing that corporations are not allowed to talk about politics, the question is whether it is in everyone's interests for them to be able to use their very large finances to attempt to influence elections and polticians.

The best way out of this would be to introduce public financing of election campaigns and make it illegal for political parties to accept what are essentially bribes from corporations who will give this money knowing what they want in return for it.

There's a reason why people like Liebermann find it appalling that Americans might be offered a public option in their helthcare. And I suspect, though I have no proof, that insurance companies invest quite a lot in Mr Liebermann's campaigns.

If you were an insurance company, wouldn't you?

The American system of government is the way it is because lobbying groups and special interest groups are poisoning debate through what is essentially bribery.

So, while I could take your point regarding free speech and the First Amendment, the speech we are actually talking about here is far from free. It costs a lot to get Joe to keep looking out for your corporate interests.

As I say, there will always be politicians who will say anything as long as the cheques are large enough. What is needed is public financing of electoral campaigns to keep politicians from adjusting their beliefs to suit their largest donors.

Steel Phoenix said...

We are so far beyond being able to make distinctions between different kinds of corporations. Take NBC for instance. They are owned by General Electric, one of our biggest defense contractors and a company with clear conflicts of interest in debates over energy sources.

Currently if you want to advertise for a politician, you just need to be a big enough corporation to make your own media company.

Donating to or advertising for a campaign isn't the same as a bribe. I can see that it can create a conflict of interest, but it still has to be spent on the campaign. If anything, I think this might end up creating bidding wars between major corporations on opposing sides. That money is no longer theirs, it goes to whoever they advertise with. With people increasingly getting their news from smaller internet sources, this could be the force that breaks the network stranglehold on the minds of the nation.

You could be right, this could be a really bad thing. I'll be interested to see what things look like in November. If Coke supports McCain and Pepsi supports Obama and each promises a 10 cent donation per can, how will it go for them? If anything this increases micro donations by proxy by the public.

Kel said...

Donating to or advertising for a campaign isn't the same as a bribe.

Really? Let's take the example of health insurance companies donating to Lieberman's campaign. Why are they promoting that candidate? What do they hope that their money will buy them?

So far it has ensured that millions of Americans have been denied a public option in healthcare. And it has done so for no better reason than to protect their profits. Perhaps Lieberman genuinely thinks that the public option is a terrible thing, but I suspect that the money he is being given is certainly influencing his opinion. Maybe bribery is too strong a word, but there is the suspicion that his vote is being bought. In what political system is such a suspicion a good thing?

If Coke supports McCain and Pepsi supports Obama and each promises a 10 cent donation per can, how will it go for them?

I think you are seriously missing the point. Where corporations differ from people is that, at the end of the day, corporations care about only one thing: profit.

And the Republicans are the party that share that philosophy. Companies which believe in a more collective society, Acorn and the like, tend to lack the same financial muscle as the multinationals.

This will seriously shift financial power in the direction of the Republicans, which is why these right wing judges have done what they have done.

The only way to correct this, and I note that you have not addressed this point, is to have public funding of electoral campaigns.