While the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision recognizing the First Amendment right of corporations to spend money on political speech may swamp politics with more special-interest money, it’s hard to argue with it as a matter of constitutional law.
For news media corporations long have had that right and couldn’t exist without it; otherwise there would be no free press, just pamphleteers and bloggers. How can some corporations have the right and not others?
As a practical matter, it’s not as if corporations have been impaired much anyway. Their employees have been free to spend money on politics, through direct contributions to candidates or their own independent activity. And corporations have been free to reimburse employees through higher salaries, as long as such reimbursement is not explicit.
Yes, the prospect of huge amounts of corporation money entering politics is scary but no scarier than the huge amounts already entering politics via the Federal Reserve, which has created hundreds of billions of dollars and bestowed them in secret on certain financial corporations, which in turn have spent some of the money in ways that retain or build their political influence.
As government becomes more pervasive, there may be public interest in allowing corporations, as representatives of the ever-diminishing private sector, to push back more in politics. Yes, now corporations may more plausibly threaten to ruin politicians who cross them, but then government itself long has been making and breaking corporations.
Indeed, viewed only from Connecticut, new waves of special-interest campaign money might actually be welcome. For few states have less competitive politics. The General Assembly has a Democratic “supermajority” that is resolved only to preserve the privileges of the government class, and all the state’s members of Congress are Democrats. Meanwhile Connecticut’s business community could not be less effective politically. Its supposed representative, the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, long has contented itself with empty poses while declining to take sides in elections as business and industry have fled the state.
The big problem is not the free speech rights of corporations – corporations should have them if only as a matter of self-defense – but campaign finance. Nobody has yet devised a system that mobilizes people comprehensively to become citizens, drafting them into the support of a competitive and more democratic political system. Connecticut’s new system of public financing of campaigns was meant well by many of its supporters, but it had its cynical supporters, too, as indicated by the federal court ruling that it provides a heavy advantage to major party candidates.
Whatever the campaign finance solution, it can’t be to give the government more control over political speech. Because of the ongoing economic collapse, the government is already more than half the economy, and the biggest issue facing the country may be simply whether a private sector is to survive.
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer of Manchester.