Corporate Personhood: This is… Insane

I have to say something about the latest Supreme Court ruling upholding “corporate personhood”, declaring that corporations and unions (when was their “personhood” established?) can contribute as much money to political campaigns they like in the name of free speech.

I am not a judicial scholar, but this argument looks absolutely rotten to the core. News articles tell me that Republicans are actually happy about this decision, mouthing the words “this is a victory for free speech”, and apparently believing them too.

Because of my limitless capacity for self-doubt, I suppose I can always leave the door open slightly ajar to the possibility that there really is some moral and social good or benefit to allowing multinational corporations and Mafia-infested labor unions to ride roughshod over the American electoral process.

However, because of my sanity, which normally tells me that “an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law” (to quote dissenting Justice Stevens, quoting John Marshall) isn’t a real person, I think this decision is one of the most anti-democratic, nakedly plutocratic I have ever heard of. Arguments for corporate personhood, and the freedom of speech that follows, ultimately give one a sense of what it is like to live in Oceania in Orwell’s 1984 and hold the revolutionary thought that 2+2 might actually equal 4, even when Big Brother says it equals 5. War is peace, slavery is freedom, and the freedom to buy politicians and elections is “freedom of speech.” Insanity is sane!

It is also rather ironic given my recent defense of pragmatic libertarianism that I am reminded of a familiar dispute I would have with them. Socialists and libertarians argue endlessly over where the real source of corruption lies – in the state disrupting the market, or in the market disrupting the state. In other words, is the problem really that the state interferes in the free market and creates conditions for monopolies to arise, or is the problem that massive corporations, having won the economic competition and consolidated their economic power, are then able to purchase the state?

The problem is that both of these narratives are true, though one or the other is more pronounced at a given moment in history. In this case I see them working together in a rather disgusting harmony: the state is creating the conditions by which the corporations will be able to use their profits to influence the political process in a more direct way than ever before.

But there is something even more sickening about the phenomenon of corporate/union personhood – the fact that this convoluted, philosophically dubious proposition can be consistently upheld while the personhood of the unborn human being can be left undefined, and there by eliminated de facto in the eyes of the law. The decision of the Blackmum court in Roe v. Wade made airily stupid evasions about society’s inability to agree on what counts as personhood for a human being. In that immortal decision, the following words were written:

We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.

When was the consensus among doctors, philosophers, and theologians reached on the personhood of an abstract, non-human, non-living legal construct!?

Whatever arguments one wishes to make in favor of corporate personhood, this compare and contrast highlights how radically corrupt this government’s priorities are. At the very least the question of personhood should be resolved for human beings before moving into (or rather, reaffirming) still yet more complicated, abstract philosophical terrain!

I want less powerful corporations for the same reason I have come to want smaller government – so that the local level can thrive. How subsidiarity is suppose to work under these conditions is beyond me. Aside from the fact that I think it is a bad idea in general to give corporations and unions such influence over the political process, the question also arises: to what extent will foreigners now have a greater impact on the American political process than Americans themselves? Will this not allow other countries, even strategic rivals, by proxy, to gain a stake in the American political system?

What further fascinates me are the legal conditions under which corporations are considered US citizens – as opposed to philosophical “persons.” Section 50501 of the U.S. Code declares that “a corporation, partnership, or association is deemed to be a citizen of the United States only if the controlling interest is owned by citizens of the United States.” The code further stipulates that “if the corporation, partnership, or association is operating a vessel in the coastwise trade, at least 75 percent of the interest must be owned by citizens of the United States.”

How many corporations operating out of the United States would fail to meet these conditions today? Why do I get the feeling that the citizenship status of these corporations will scarcely be raised when considering questions of campaign finance? What we may be facing here is a situation where non-citizens, that is, corporations that do not have a controlling interest owned by US citizens, will nonetheless be able to exercise the rights of citizens because they are also “persons.”

Once again, a chorus of tens of millions of murdered unborn children must somewhere be raising an agonizing cry of protest. Part of the rationalization, after all, for the dehumanization of the unborn is that they are not yet “citizens”, that they only become such after they are born and have a birth certificate.

To my right-leaning friends who might actually agree with the decision of the courts, in part or in full, I mean you no offense. But I would really appreciate a justification for what appears to be the most crude sophistry in the interests of a dangerous expansion of power and potential for massive corruption.

57 Responses to Corporate Personhood: This is… Insane

  • Blackadder says:

    Of course a corporation isn’t a real person. No one says otherwise. People often act through groups for one reason or another. When they do, it is often simpler to treat the group as if it were itself a person, rather than as an aggregation of individuals. If you didn’t have corporate personhood, you would still have the same groups spending the same amounts of money on the same things, it’s just that describing this process would be more unwieldy. And once you accept corporate personhood as a simplifying assumption, you have to grant the corporation the same rights that the individuals through which it acts would have if you took the time to spell everything out.

    Remember also, not all corporations are like Exxon or whatever. The Archdiocese of Boston, for example, is a corporation. So are universities, charities, media companies, etc. The plaintiff in the Supreme Court’s case, Citizen’s United, is a non-profit political advocacy group, that simply wanted to run a documentary critical of Hillary Clinton.

  • S.B. says:

    Corporate “personhood” wasn’t at issue in this case. The issue was the extent of Congress’s power to ban criticism of itself and other politicians. The First Amendment says Congress can’t abridge the freedom of speech or the press — based on the text, it doesn’t matter who is speaking or on behalf of what organization (thus, the New York Times can’t be banned on the theory that it’s a corporation with no free speech rights).

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    First BA, then SB

    “Of course a corporation isn’t a real person. No one says otherwise.”

    Really? I don’t think dissenting justice John Paul Stevens was being fully comical when he said,

    “Under the majority’s view, I suppose it may be a First Amendment problem that corporations are not permitted to vote, given that voting is, among other things, a form of speech.”

    The assumption that the line is going to be drawn in such a way as that it won’t be exploited and abused isn’t warranted.

    The simple question is this: what is being asserted? The right of the “corporation” to speech, or the right of the individuals within the corporation to speech? The individuals already have freedom of speech as U.S. citizens – the only reason one would need to declare freedom of speech for corporations is if it were somehow being asserted that the corporation is something more than the aggregate of the people who own it or are employed by it.

    Of course I realize that the corporation is considered an “artificial person” – the problem is a philosophical one in which the lines between “artificial” and “natural” can be blurred by sophistry, by nonsense of all kinds. It would be better to, as you say, “spell everything out.”

    “And once you accept corporate personhood as a simplifying assumption, you have to grant the corporation the same rights that the individuals through which it acts would have if you took the time to spell everything out.”

    How can we retain this assumption in a global economy, where the controlling interest of corporations that happen to operate in the US might reside in citizens of different countries?

    “Remember also, not all corporations are like Exxon or whatever.”

    I know. And that certainly complicates matters. But what I am fairly certain of is that most of the examples you cite do not have either the resources to radically influence the political process as both corporations and labor unions do (in fact, labor unions are bigger spenders than a lot of corporations), and in the second place I doubt they would ever have foreign controlling interests.

    Which just raises the question for me – since when is personhood, as opposed to citizenship, the condition for free speech, for protection under the Bill of Rights?

    You’re the laywer, BA, you and Don. I’m not going to make this ugly because I acknowledge that I really don’t know the law. I’ll defer to your legal expertise. I can only say how it looks to me as a layman, and it doesn’t look good. It looks like, as I said, sophistry in the service of big money.

    SB,

    Ok, assuming I accept that explanation – why did the crap hit the fan when this ruling was made?

    I can’t argue with the logic that the NY Times is a corporation, but I think I can take issue with the logic that free speech = right to contribute unlimited amounts of money to the candidate of my choice. When the NY Times is using its first amendment right, it is in the form of news articles and opinion pieces, i.e. actual speech, as opposed to a dump truck of money driven up to a senator’s front porch in exchange for his vote on key issues.

  • jonathanjones02 says:

    The central question is: what is speech as it relates to spending?

    In the Buckley decision (1975), a ban on limits on spending by organizations that support a candidate was invalidated – government should not restrict the speech of some elements of society (corporations in the loose sense, including unions) so as to “enhance” the voice of others – this was against the First Amendment.

    So, is money speech? I think a very good argument could be made that it is under our constitutional framework – which is what a court should be concerned with.

    As for a “solution” – why not unlimited contributions, and then immediate disclouse, and very heavy fines for non-immediate disclosure?

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Johnathan,

    Why is it that the concept of a “limitation” on spending is equated with the concept of a “restriction” of speech? This argument presupposes what it has yet to prove.

    By this logic a person with no money also has no freedom of speech.

  • Blackadder says:

    I don’t think dissenting justice John Paul Stevens was being fully comical when he said,

    “Under the majority’s view, I suppose it may be a First Amendment problem that corporations are not permitted to vote, given that voting is, among other things, a form of speech.”

    Yes, Stevens was being comical. He doesn’t really think that the majority view implies a right for corporations to vote, anymore than he thinks the fact 17 year olds can’t vote mean they have no free speech rights.

    The simple question is this: what is being asserted? The right of the “corporation” to speech, or the right of the individuals within the corporation to speech?

    The way our legal system is set up corporations are recognized as separate entities. We could set things up a different way, but that wouldn’t change the actual result (this much money, spent on this purpose, by these individuals, acting through this organization), it would just making describing it more complicated.

    How can we retain this assumption in a global economy, where the controlling interest of corporations that happen to operate in the US might reside in citizens of different countries?

    Last I checked, the ability of people to speak out about American politics wasn’t limited to American citizens. In any event, even if you could draw a law that only restricted the speech of foreigners or foreign corporations, that wasn’t the law at issue in this case.

  • Dale Price says:

    While I can understand at some level the disgust with the decision, the bedrock of it is as plain as day:

    Criminal penalties for political speech violate the First Amendment. Period.

    That, and the paternalism behind McCain-Feingold is grating.

    Frankly, if the health of the Republic requires these kinds of penalties to protect Mary and John Clueless-Mushhead from “special interests” commandeering the infinitely-malleable goo in their skulls, then the Republic is lost.

  • jonathanjones02 says:

    Because the issue at hand is influencing public opinion through the electoral process. To restrict an ability to produce materials (pamphlets or television ads or whatever else) is to restrict the ability to engage in speech.

    Bad as it sounds, money is speech in this context.

    The problem with limits such as Buckley and McCain-Feingold is that the demand will never decrease for funds, even as supply is “restricted” (ha!).

    To those that oppose the decision, what is the alternative? Money has always been central to democratic election-seeking, and it will always be so. It is a by-product of representation that will never go away.

    I say let’s have a free for all, with immediate disclosue. The “root” of the “problem” that reformers wish to correct is uncorrectable. There will always be money, and it will always influence. Let us have transparency, and trust the voters to determine undue interest.

    There is no good alternative, unless we end democratic representation with republican processes (quite another conversation).

  • Blackadder says:

    Socialists and libertarians argue endlessly over where the real source of corruption lies – in the state disrupting the market, or in the market disrupting the state. In other words, is the problem really that the state interferes in the free market and creates conditions for monopolies to arise, or is the problem that massive corporations, having won the economic competition and consolidated their economic power, are then able to purchase the state?

    I think the libertarian position here is more subtle. I think most libertarians would agree that successful businesses will try to get the state to legislate on their behalf and to harm their competition (this is true, by the way, regardless of whether the business in question has adopted the corporate form). They just don’t see giving the state more power as a plausible remedy for this problem. If monied interests are powerful enough to “purchase the state” then any government device for ‘combating corporate power’ will just be used to limit competition and benefit big firms. Do you really think that the restrictions struck down in Citizen’s United were preventing large corporations from influencing the government?

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    “Yes, Stevens was being comical.”

    It might have been tongue-in-cheek but I think it is half-serious too.

    “Last I checked, the ability of people to speak out about American politics wasn’t limited to American citizens.”

    Which just highlights, furthermore, the problem of equating speech with money. Multinational corporations, non-citizens any place on the planet, could influence elections everywhere on the planet on the theory that the “ability” to speak and the “right” to speak are the same, and that “money” is the same as “speech”, thereby resulting in “the ability to spend money” = “the right to speech”, thereby resulting in situations where a corporation based in one country made up of non-citizens could have a greater influence over the political life of another nation than the real flesh-and-blood citizens of that nation.

    If this is the way of things, then countries really are irrelevant.

  • Rick Lugari says:

    Joe, I’ll let others argue the legitimacy or illegitimacy of corporate contributions. I’m with you that it’s a little unsettling, but I’m not so sure there’s a better way. However, I will offer an opinion on what this ruling establishes in comparison. As the law was corporations could contribute as much as they wanted in through other avenues and it was all done under the radar for the most part. You’re (rightfully) worried about the ability of a corporate interest with deep pockets being able to influence a politician in an inappropriate manner. Thing is, at least we can see the connections now and know the influences. The Dems don’t like that. They’re more beholden to special and corporate interests yet play the part of being for the little guy. They prefer that a corporate ally create or contribute to an aligned group that does the work for the party as an “independant” concern. Smoke and mirrors, friend.

  • jonathanjones02 says:

    Oops, I meant republican representation with democratic processes.

    For all its many flaws, it should be recognized that our political system can never be rid of the strong current of political money.

    Financial expressions of political support (speech), be it in the form of parties or candidates or PACs or “organizations” (and all McCain-Feingold did was shift this weight), will persist so long as candidates require it for their own speech, and the fulfillments of their duties.

    Reform should happen on the side of the electoral process (term limits especially), not on the side of socio-political expression.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    BA,

    “Do you really think that the restrictions struck down in Citizen’s United were preventing large corporations from influencing the government?”

    Of course not – and I’ve heard other people ask the same question, as if to say, “what’s the big deal, they already do it anyway.”

    I can’t abide by that logic. If its going to happen regardless, I’d rather it be more and not less difficult.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    To reiterate my second-to-last post to BA, we are in some cases talking about corporations with greater profits than the GDP of many nations.

    How far away are we from Wal-Mart just buying a whole country in Africa or Asia?

  • Blackadder says:

    Which just highlights, furthermore, the problem of equating speech with money.

    If I use money to buy a car, then that isn’t speech and any attempt to claim that I shouldn’t have to pay taxes on the car because this would be taxing my right to speak would get laughed out of court.

    On the other hand, using money to pay for a political advertisement pretty clearly is speech. So money isn’t speech, but speech is speech, even if you use money to make it. Which in this context amounts to the same thing.

  • Blackadder says:

    By the way, I should note that Citizen’s United didn’t involve limits on campaign contributions to candidates. Those are still in place, both for corporations and for individuals. What was at issue was the ability of corporations to spend money independently of a campaign.

  • Blackadder says:

    To reiterate my second-to-last post to BA, we are in some cases talking about corporations with greater profits than the GDP of many nations.

    How far away are we from Wal-Mart just buying a whole country in Africa or Asia?

    First, I doubt that there are many corporations whose *profits* are greater than the GDP of many nations.

    Second, even if Wal-Mart’s profits did exceed some African nation’s GDP, you can’t actually buy a country. Governments maintain themselves through force, not money.

    Third, I fail to see how conjuring up image of a Wal-Mart owned Africa has anything to do with the Citizen’s United case, which involved American elections. If Wal-Mart somehow did manage to “buy” a country nothing in the corporate ban struck down in CU would have made this one iota more difficult.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    “I fail to see how conjuring up image of a Wal-Mart owned Africa has anything to do with the Citizen’s United case”

    Maybe because I wasn’t making that direct connection and the conversation just went off on a tangent?

    Jeez.

  • Blackadder says:

    Joe,

    If you want to talk about the menace of corporate power generally I’m not going to argue with you. I too think it can be baleful. But the question is whether the law struck down in Citizen’s United is all that helpful in restraining corporate power (if not, then I hope you’d agree much of the criticism of the decision has been wrongheaded). As to that question, let me quote from a recent article in Politico:

    In the past decade, corporations have actually been trying to get out of the business of big political giving. They sided with reform advocates when the McCain-Feingold law was first challenged in 2003 and testified on behalf of its ban on unlimited corporate giving to the political parties, which were dubbed “soft money” donations.

    If things like McCain-Feingold were an effective restraint on corporate power, why would corporations be in favor of it?

  • I guess the sense in which I don’t find it all that disturbing to allow corporations to spend money on political speech as that it seems fairly obvious that corporations have interests which might be legitimately threatened by political initiatives, and in such circumstances I don’t see why “they” shouldn’t be able to make a fuss about it.

    Extreme example: Imagine some politicians from Michigan were pushing an initiative under some nice name like “Put America Back To Work” which imposed a large tax on the sale of any car sold by a company not headquartered in the US. I would certainly have no problem with Honda or Toyota paying for ads which emphasized the unfairness of it and pointed out how many Americans they employ.

    Now, I think what people are more concerned about it corporations funnelling large amounts of money to specific politicians’ campaigns and getting unfair favorable treatment in return. I certainly see that concern, but I guess it strikes me that we end up getting a lot of that anyway, which is why it’s important to try to limit the scope of government interference as much as possible (so it doesn’t have the chance to exert favoritism.)

    Plus, I would hope the see the management and shareholders of a corporation acting as a brake on excessive political activity by the company — since obviously in most cases they would rather be paid out money as profits than see it poured into some political campaign in return for possible long term returns through favoritism.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Alright,

    I can agree that much of the criticism doesn’t really get to the heart of the matter.

    As for the Politico article, does it really support your argument? It also says,

    “The reasons for this reluctance were complex… Others didn’t like the lack of control they had over how their money was spent.

    The court ruling would give corporate officials that control, but many of them may decide — especially those in publicly held companies — to keep the cash for their real business needs.”

    What if they don’t decide? If this ruling does give them “more control”, then wouldn’t their position on M-F change too?

    It also argues,

    “Running attack ads against political targets would create real risks of alienating customers and shareholders. And, given voters’ sentiments toward corporations today, most politicians would probably not welcome a glowing ad campaign on their behalf that was funded by Big Business.”

    Given today’s political and cultural climate, I can’t say I entirely agree with that.

    On the other hand, if this is the problem I think it is, then corporations aren’t the biggest problem the American electorate faces. That I can concede.

  • Blackadder says:

    Joe,

    Business corporations don’t really want to run political ads. For one thing, given that about half of the country is Democrat and half is Republican, running ads in favor of a particular candidate is likely to piss off a lot of potential customers, which is bad for business. And it’s not like people are likely to find ads supporting a candidate by Giant Mega Corp to be all that convincing anyway.

    Business interests influence politics in other ways. That’s way they were in favor of the corporate ban. It was non-profits and advocacy groups that were mainly against it.

  • Michael says:

    I haven’t read all the comments so maybe someone has already spoken to this point.

    This decision had little to nothing to do with corporate personhood. Even if it did, it wouldn’t really matter much. What this case was about was freedom of speech. The first amendment says that Congress shall make no law …abridging the freedom of speech. Whether or not a corporation is defined legally as a person, it is still made up of individual persons that act in unison. This decision simply says that a you can no more prohibit a group of people from speaking or acting politically than you can an individual. Justice Keennedy also brings up the point that media companies were able to spend an unlimited amount of money on political speech in the form of both news coverage and political punditry. So, just from that standpoint alone McCain-Feingold was a nonsensical law to begin with.

    As for money equating to free speech, in a certain sense it does. Now, I can say abortion is wrong until I’m blue in the face. But if I want people to hear me, I need to bring this message out to more people. I can do this by printing pamphlets, which costs money, speaking on the radio, which costs money, or buying airtime on television. By prohibiting how much money I can spend on this issue, the government is prohibiting how many people I can speak to. So, in a certain sense, prohibiting spending is prohibiting speech.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    “So, in a certain sense, prohibiting spending is prohibiting speech.”

    Yes, in one sense.

    In another sense, though, spending is also a raw exercise of power. It has been clarified for me now that this wasn’t about campaign contributions, but just in a general sense, beyond this particular ruling – you don’t have a right to buy and own a politician. If that’s “speech”, the we’re all doomed.

  • foxfier says:

    Short version: this case was lost when the gov’t lawyer had to admit it gave legal ability to ban books.

    This law said “groups of people can’t talk about X topic.” Pretty clearly not kosher, no matter what you call the groups.
    Keep in mind what’s up just to our north, with various groups banned from speaking on topics. For that matter, look to the Dutch.

    There’s a dang good reason that number one on that is is SHALL MAKE NO.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Eric,

    I feel as if I’m going crazy on this issue.

    On the one hand I can’t deny that BA and others make cogent points.

    On the other hand, the whole idea still sounds rotten to me, it still has the Orwellian feel. Maybe in the current political set up it doesn’t matter as much – everything evens out. That being said,

    BA,

    You said, repeating what I cited from the politico article,

    “Business corporations don’t really want to run political ads.”

    Well if the control they have over the process is supposedly enhanced by this ruling, maybe its something they would get into. The article cited that lack of control as a reason why they didn’t want to do it, and said that this ruling would give it to them.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Yes, Foxfier,

    I understand this. But I feel violated any time I am forced to accept this “all or nothing” logic: either I admit that John Q. Billionaire, through his corporation, can spend as much as he likes influencing the political process, or I accept that John Q. Citizen has no freedom of speech.

    The literal truth that might be established in this dichotomy doesn’t automatically erase the political concerns associated with it. The dissenting opinion just resonates with my instinct:

    “Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it. They cannot vote or run for office. Because they may be managed and controlled by nonresidents, their interests may conflict in fundamental respects with the interests of eligible voters. The financial resources, legal structure,and instrumental orientation of corporations raise legitimate concerns about their role in the electoral process.”

    Of course it is absolutely true that one cannot campaign without money in this country. Which is why I have always been interested in the idea of publicly financed elections. Maybe that isn’t a good solution either. Ideally I think somehow, every candidate ought to have equal time and equal access, that this American style of “campaigning” in general is just flawed from the ground up.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    I mean the whole thing has the feel of kids on the playground, and one of them declares “invincibility” in a game of tag on the grounds that he always calls “invincibility” even though it ruins the whole game, and then says, “show me the rule where it says I can’t declare invincibility.” No one made such a rule because no one assumed that a psychopath would try to take over the game.

    In our case, the founding fathers appear to have been concerned that corporations would try to take over the game, and the idea of corporate personhood, with all that follows from it, has been heavily contested and controversial since its inception. Its defenders make it sound benign and even benevolent, and certainly when it comes to the day-to-day business of contracts and lawsuits and such, the idea has as BA says a “simplifying” effect.

  • foxfier says:

    Thing is, Mr. Billionare doesn’t need his corporation to have massive money-related influence; Mr. Citizen DOES need to gather up with his relatives, plus the Public family, and maybe even work with Mrs. Voter’s and the Rev. Dr. Faith’s organizations to advocate for their views.

    This law has been around for some time– does it seem to have slowed George Soros down at all? Nope, but it sure made a great hammer against a grass roots group like CU.

    I understand you’re concerned with the notion of corporate personhood, but this has absolutely nothing to do with corporate personhood.

    This is an illegal law. Period. You want to change that, amend the constitution.

    To follow your tag metaphor:
    this game of tag has someone yelling “that’s not fair, it’s cheating!” every time someone does something other than run away, such as climbing, scrambling under equipment, or dodging, while allowing themselves to make up rules– “no tag-backs!”, perhaps.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    “this has absolutely nothing to do with corporate personhood.”

    This article, which I originally linked to, shows the role that corporate personhood does play in this decision:

    “If anything, the decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission conferred new dignity on corporate “persons,” treating them — under the First Amendment free-speech clause — as the equal of human beings.”

    http://www.scotusblog.com/2010/01/analysis-the-personhood-of-corporations/

    I think it is wrong to say that it has “nothing” to do with it. When this issue comes up in the future, you can bet that this ruling will be used to defend corporate personhood.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    As for our game, we can’t let silly instances of abuse of the rules blind us to genuine unfairness that makes the game pointless.

    I get the idea that some people revel in the ability of the strong to trample over the weak, in the notion that might makes right. While I don’t think the reverse is any better – the weak tying up and dominating the strong – I do think that what this country was supposed to be about was balancing these various interests and factors.

    Maybe that was a ridiculous pipe dream.

  • Blackadder says:

    Joe,

    We’ll see. My bet is that you’re not going to be seeing a lot of attack ads against candidates put out by Exxon or Wal-Mart, etc. (businesses hardly ever even run attack ads against their competitors).

  • Rick Lugari says:

    Joe– isn’t bribery still a crime? No matter who does it?

    Not necessarily. When the bribe is a rich payout from the public treasury, disproportionally applied to one state, by a particular party’s leadership for the vote of that state’s senator it’s called good politics for the common good.

  • foxfier says:

    So… making sure that folks who have very little power can group together and become equivalent to very, very powerful people– a ruling which, incidentally, also protects the Church from being attacked for such “political” speech as being against abortion or homosexual marriage– is somehow bad for the less powerful folks.

    As for our game, we can’t let silly instances of abuse of the rules blind us to genuine unfairness that makes the game pointless.

    Which is exactly why people should be able to do political speech, even if they find other folks to work with to further their goals.

    You keep talking about buying politicians, but that is already illegal.
    The only thing this ruling does is say that groups of people are allowed the same ability to promote their goals as George Soros.

    You notably ignore the real life solution for your tag metaphor: don’t let anyone make stupid rules on the fly. In real life, kids don’t play with those who change the rules the wrong way.

    You don’t like the first amendment, change it. Don’t complain because it finally got applied correctly. See if you can get a movement to add an Amendment: “only individuals have protected speech; X groups of individuals do not.” However you’d like to phrase it.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Foxfeir,

    I do like the first amendment. If there is some confusion about that, let me clear it up now.

    What you see as “applied correctly”, others see as an invention. I know you think you’re right – I’m not convinced that the critics of the ruling are wrong.

    The right of the Church to speak is not the same as the right of a corporation to spend endless money promoting whatever causes it wants. I know the logic that attempts to force me to accept that they are the same, and I am not convinced that it is sound. I am not convinced that technicalities make for sound policies, and that’s what it all sounds like to me – a technicality.

    “You keep talking about buying politicians”

    I keep talking about the role of money in the political process, of which the buying of politicians is only one part.

    “You notably ignore”

    I ignore nothing.

  • foxfier says:

    Rick- I believe folks were already pointing out that was illegal, and were taking action to deal with it. Funny, though.

    The right of the Church to speak is not the same as the right of a corporation to spend endless money promoting whatever causes it wants.

    Doesn’t matter, since that isn’t what was ruled. What was ruled was, in short, “the government can’t ban books, movies or pamphlets put out by a group supporting their political views just because it has a politician’s name in it.”

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    And the assumption is still that a corporation is a “group” like any other group, just another innocent “group” in the democratic landscape.

    I agree with the dissenting opinion – the structure of corporations, their access to vast financial resources, the possibility that controlling interests might not even be held by US citizens – all of this raises a “legitimate concern” about their role in the political process.

    So the phrase “a group” doesn’t really convey in my mind the reality of the situation, the real differences between corporations and other groups in society.

  • foxfier says:

    As opposed to your assumption that a group that happens to be incorporated is guilty?

    Picture this:
    the structure of the Catholic Church, their access to vast financial resources, the fact that controlling interests are not even be held by US citizens – all of this raises a “legitimate concern” about their role in the political process.

    That, in a nutshell, is why the ruling is good.

  • P.Diddy says:

    - There has been little quoting of the actual decision. It would have been helpful to see the very arguments from the justices laid bare.

    - McCain-Feingold with it’s labryinthian rules dictating how money could be spent and at what time-frame in the election cycle was incredibly arrogant and exceedingly bad law. Can you imagine any other right from the Bill of Rights being conditional such that it applied 31 days before an election but not within 30 days of an election? If rights have any meaning at all they are not treated as whimsical.

    - Justice Stevens [Breyer or Ginsberg] is a [wo]man who actively endorses infanticide. Quoting him [her] for any purpose other than to illustrate secular progressive folly and hubris is morally and intellectually repugnant. The day Catholics wake up and find this [wo]man on the side of Truth is the day of the Eschaton.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    There isn’t an assumption of guilt, foxfier. There’s a legitimate reason to be concerned.

    These are two different things, and I reject as nonsense any suggestion that such a distinction can’t be made. It would be an abuse of language and logic.

    Furthermore, your comparison is still false. The Catholic Church, like all other churches, is subject to another part of the first amendment, the establishment clause. It cannot endorse a candidate in an election, it cannot use its funds for political activity, as a result of its tax-exempt status.

    When secularists whine about the Church interfering in politics, they really are targeting simple, plain speech. That is something I reject as absurd – as I would reject, in the same way, prohibiting a corporate CEO or union boss to give a speech or make calls to a congressman. Everyone has that right.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    “Justice Stevens [Breyer or Ginsberg] is a [wo]man who actively endorses infanticide.”

    As repugnant as that is, to suggest that this position automatically invalidates every other position they might hold is a logical absurdity.

  • P.Diddy says:

    Slight hyperbole on my part? Yea.

    Indicative of a secular worldview on the Justice’s part that has proven incompatible with the the most fundamental precepts of Catholicism? Yea, too.

  • foxfier says:

    Joe, you state that corporations cannot be assumed to be just another innocent group, like other collections of people. If they cannot be assumed to be innocent in the manner of other units of humanity, then they are being assumed to be guilty.

  • foxfier says:

    That is something I reject as absurd – as I would reject, in the same way, prohibiting a corporate CEO or union boss to give a speech or make calls to a congressman. Everyone has that right.

    Now that this has been ruled, yes. Before that, not so much.

    It cannot endorse a candidate in an election, it cannot use its funds for political activity, as a result of its tax-exempt status.

    Let rules like the one overturned stand, and they can’t say “Nancy Pelosi, candidate for President, is not accurately representing the Catholic faith when she says X.”
    Given that there are already challenges against the Church for simply keeping the teachings She’s had for ages….

  • Art Deco says:

    I agree with the dissenting opinion – the structure of corporations, their access to vast financial resources, the possibility that controlling interests might not even be held by US citizens – all of this raises a “legitimate concern” about their role in the political process.

    If I recall correctly, there tend to be several different types of corporations, with different privileges and constraints attached to each. In addition to limited liability, publicly-traded corporations can issue equities, bonds, and commercial paper and do not typically have a discrete ownership group. Unions are not merely associations of workers, but associations which have certain privileges and immunities (e.g. to shut down a work site with a strike).

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Fox,

    “If they cannot be assumed to be innocent in the manner of other units of humanity, then they are being assumed to be guilty.”

    That is a logical fallacy of false dichotomy. That’s like saying that locking the liquor cabinet when you have an alcoholic in the house is a presumption of guilt. It’s a precaution – not an assumption.

    If all precautions are assumptions than every institution on the planet is guilty of this crime. Is that your position? That all precautions are assumptions?

    So, needless to say, I completely reject your logic :)

    “Before that, not so much.”

    I don’t think so, but I suppose we’ll agree to disagree. If it really was so bad, a ruling could have been made that made a sensible distinction between a corporation, an individual, and “groups” in general – something a developed intellect ought to be able to do, instead of throwing up one’s hands in frustration and declaring “all or nothing” or “all is one.”

    We’d never do it in moral theology – I don’t see why it needs to be done in politics. If we can’t make distinctions then we are subject to a conceptual and linguistic tyranny that is whatever those in power say it is.

    On this:

    “Let rules like the one overturned stand, and they can’t say “Nancy Pelosi, candidate for President, is not accurately representing the Catholic faith when she says X.”

    You’re really stretching the bounds of credibility here. The Church has nothing to do with the arguments that were heard before the Supreme Court; her tax-exempt status is clearly defined, and the parameters of her legitimate role in the political process are clearly defined.

    Again, intelligent distinctions can be made if that is what is necessary. If the problem is an abuse of logic and language that attempts to equate the Church with a for-profit business corporation, then that is the problem that needs to be addressed; and it doesn’t need to be addressed by giving carte blanche to corporations and labor unions.

    Thus again, I agree with the dissenting opinion in the case.

  • foxfier says:

    That is a logical fallacy of false dichotomy. That’s like saying that locking the liquor cabinet when you have an alcoholic in the house is a presumption of guilt. It’s a precaution – not an assumption.

    False analogy– this is locking the liquor cabinet door because your son in law is coming over, and he’s a Patrick.

    Preemptively stripping the rights based on faulty assumptions is a bad idea; doing so in direct violation of the law is a worse one.

    We’d never do it in moral theology – I don’t see why it needs to be done in politics. If we can’t make distinctions then we are subject to a conceptual and linguistic tyranny that is whatever those in power say it is.

    1) The law is not moral theology, and it’s a really bad idea to try to use that as a model.
    2) There’s nothing saying we can’t make distinctions, if it is done correctly.
    3) The struck down law actually did exactly what you claim to be afraid of– gave whoever is in power a very, very big bully-club to use as they wished, even though it violated established law.

    You’re really stretching the bounds of credibility here. The Church has nothing to do with the arguments that were heard before the Supreme Court; her tax-exempt status is clearly defined, and the parameters of her legitimate role in the political process are clearly defined.

    If the precedent is established, it has everything to do with the Church. Remember that old, hugely quoted “first they came for the…” setup?
    Or maybe you’ll prefer the one about cutting down every law in England to get at the Devil?
    Cutting away the protections on political speech is a very, very bad idea. Doing so not by an amendment process, but by defining some groups as not counting, is an even worse one.

    and it doesn’t need to be addressed by giving carte blanche to corporations and labor unions.

    It REALLY doesn’t need to be addressed by violating the process in place to illegally restrict speech. As I said way, way back– there’s a system. If it bugs you so much, get an amendment through. Don’t support redefining protections out of existence.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Fox,

    We’re just not going to see eye to eye on this. I’m going to end it now, because I’ve said all that I want to say, and my answers would just be restatements of earlier points.

    No hard feelings, its cool to disagree, good night and God bless.

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