A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Supreme Court, Big Money, and Freedom of Speech

Two blogging friends of mine, Country Parson and Henry Neufeld (Henry is also one of my publishers), have posted their thoughts on yesterday's Supreme Court decision easing restrictions on campaign advocacy spending by corporations and unions. Both have a different take on the decision. I invite you to read both posts and comment here (or there) that we might get a good discussion going today.

Feel free to be passionate about your view, but no one is allowed to say anything insulting about my two friends. They are both smart and thoughtful persons.

Country Parson-- A Morally Bankrupt Court
Henry Neufeld-- Supreme Court Favors Free Speech


Bruce said...

I think the Supreme Court is wrong. This is not a free speech issue. Companies and Corporations are not citizens with civil rights like individuals. Does this mean that corporations of other nations who do business can now influence American politics with cash? The issue is about the wealthy controling political activity in America. This is about the rich and powerful pushing aside the influence of the vast majority of the citizens of America.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Well said, Bruce!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

There are good points on both sides. But obviously, the people who have power want to protect that power, in opposition to what "ideal" the Founders had in mind, when they created a "balance of powers"...

The question has become, how do we allow the little guy a voice? If the little guy doesn't think his voice counts, then there will unfortunately be the attitude of one of the commentors who just wanted to go to Maui and "goof off"...passivity of the voting populace cannot do anything but empower the powerful further, which is what we see happening since Reagan's reforms...

Allan R. Bevere said...

So... just to continue this discussion...

Bruce, are then saying that large organizations, like the United Methodist Church cannot pay for and run campaign ads opposing legalized gambling or take out newspaper ads opposing the Iraq War? Are we going to say only organizations who make money can't express their views and fund ads? It may indeed be less of a free speech issue, but what about freedom of association? Someone needs to respond to Henry's point on that.

Angie, of course, those who have power want to protect it, but I do not see how the balance of powers set up by the government has anything to do with this issue.

Don't forget the Founding Fathers set up a system where the only people who could vote were white church of England landowners. That hardly sounds like an interest in the "little guy."

The issue the Supreme Court had to deal with was the issue of Constitutionality, nothing more and nothing less. So the question remains, why or why not is this ruling a good one in reference to the Constitution?

I wish someone would respond sympathetic to Henry's views so I can ask her/him a question or two.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Does freedom of assoication mean that every single assoicate is aware of all of the policies their organization and/or corporation is involved in? Does the individual have to agree with all of the group's positions on such? Does the individual have a right to express dissent of opinion in light of conscience about certain issues?

And have we made 'progress" in viewing all men as equal under law? meaning that race and sex doesn't matter in regards to opportunity to freely associate?

I am an individualist and think that without upholding the individual, in his own unique right to associate or dis-associate with groups of his or her own choice, then we promote tyranny. It is a view that values free association of rational choice, conviction and conscience in regards to religious opinions/beliefs, which I think upholds an ethical view of life.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Angie, anyone is free to disassociate from a group, but groups do take official positions. And, of course, people are free to dissent from the group of which they are a member.

Everyone knows this. That is irrelevant to the point. The question is should they be allowed as a group to express their views in campaign ads.

I'm trying not to insert myself here, just continue the discussion.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

In light of corporations that are meant to "make money" (business interests/investments) or "provide for the poor" (NGOs or non-profits), individuals must value that goal or purpose and agree to be "used" for that end, if that corporation or organization deems itself moral. So, in regards to using one's money to influence politicians who make policy, then I think it might seem a little skewed toward those who control (head the boards and make the decisions), which inevitably means that the individual's rules are limited by the power structures who "win" in their lobbying attempts. But, even then, civil liberties should be protected in regards to the individual.

Bruce said...

The issue is complicated, but not so difficult that we can't sort through the issues. If corporate money is allowed to set the political agenda, then individual votes will be compromised. This is about corrupting the politcal arena. Under the cover of "free speech" we are embracing bribery, vote selling, (which is a major reason why the dems lost in Mass.) and now, allowing those with big dollars to set the agenda. Allow me to set the foundations and rules of any debate and I can get my way. Money does that. Voters do become irrelevant in this system.

Henry Neufeld said...

Allan - I'm going to make one remark here, though I don't know if I'll keep up.

I do believe that restricting what people can do as groups as opposed to as individuals is also a threat to individual freedom. The claim that people are deceived by or cannot control the groups they join adequately is, in my view, an argument against individualism, rather than for it. Further, if an individual cannot control the groups they join, in what way is the government a better arbiter?

I think, however, that the best argument against my argument would come under a sort of "artificial person" note, which is essentially what the law makes of a corporation. As the government gives a special category of groups special privileges, it can, in my view (and I believe in established law) also apply limits. This would apply more to corporations than to unions, but would in some ways apply to both.

Thus one could dissociate "freedom of association" from the corporation because of the special nature of the corporation. At the same time, one then has to distinguish types of association or even types of corporation. As an example, when I was part of a non-profit 501(c)3 we had tax exemption based on our activities, but at the same time we could not carry out certain activities, such as political lobbying. I did not regard this as a restriction of my free speech. Churches operate under a similar position.

My moral fall-back position is that I see no reason to expect government regulation to actually ameliorate any of the problems posed with corporate spending and I see no evidence that it has.

Bruce said...

Allan, my point of view is based upon corporations and companies. I have not thought about organizations that are 501c3s. I see the challenge and recognize the vast opportunity for corruption in business and 501c3s. I think that organizations and businesses are not the same as individuals with civil rights. The level of participation in the political arena should not be the same as an individual voter. Guidelines need to be established and made public. All donations must be transparent concerning source and recipient. There should never be donations from any company outside the US. Any such funding should lead the receipient to prision.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Henry, thanks for your comments. You and CP are welcome to weigh in. Without your permission I made the two of you start this discussion!

The one issue in this discussion that keeps hanging me up is the apparent assumption that big money is now all of a suddent going to be let loose in campaigns. Big money has always been a part of campaigns, and people and organizations with it have found all kinds of creative ways to spend it by getting around McCain-Feingold.

The Constitutional issue, I am not certain of, but I am stymied at how we get big money out of campaigning and I am not even sure what it would look like if we could accomplish that.

Anyone, please respond.

Bruce said...

Henry, if you believe your last paragraph, why are you not arguing for a ban on corporate political donation? You are surrendering to corporate corrupting of the political system. I am not blind to the fact that we corruption in politics now. My question is why make it worse?

Bruce said...

Allan, I agree. What would politics look like w/o corporate donations? It seems that many voters want to associate with a big organization and vote accordingly. Maybe we deserve the kind of idiocy we have in Washington. I simply do not want the corruption made any easier. This is like putting out a for sale sign in front of Capital Hill, the Supreme Court and the White House.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Corruption is enought for any American to want to see change, but I think that the value of the discourse is just as important to a free society.

Individuals who differ in the various social, political and fiscal positions would undermine the "two party system" and platforms. Politicians would then be free to express their various opinions on various issues, and all of us would be more interested and informed on the issues and engaged about the whole political process. It would be an educational experience, that is for sure...and it would cause the politician to evaluate and defend his or her position....which might breed a more principled politician and a more informed public...

Henry Neufeld said...

Bruce - I'm not sure how believing that government regulation won't improve the situation should mean that I would support a government ban, which is, after all, government regulation.

PamBG said...

I think that, once again, the American right has confused "using money any way I want to" with "freedom".

Two old sound-bites come to mind:

Whoever has the most toys wins.


(somewhat modified) All Americans are free but rich Americans are freer than others (pace George Orwell)

Allan R. Bevere said...


I think your comments about the right in reference to money and freedom are too overgeneralized.

Frankly, big money has been in campaigning in the US for a very long time and campaign finance laws have done little to nothing to curb that. People and organizations who want to put their money into a campaign will and have found ways to do so. In the last campaign, even with McCain-Feingold, more money was spent than in any previous presidential campaign.

And the left, who has spent just as many millions over the years as the right, is now being disingenuous when they denounce the Supreme Court decision. President Obama himself, who had pledged along with John McCain not to take private funds if nominated, backed out of that promise when he became the nominee even though McCain kept his promise and was at a real disadvantage in promoting his campaign. So the President's outrage on this carries no weight with me.

The question that still remains is the Constitutional question, and that is one I cannot answer, but no one is really interested in that frankly. As I have said before, both the left and the right could care less about the Constitution in practical terms. They only have an interest when it furthers their agendas.

And by the way... this is not a justification for big money in campaigns. Frankly, Christians ought to be outraged in the amounts of cash both parties throw into their attempts to gain power. I am simply saying, I am not sure how the issue is remedied. There may indeed be a solution; I just do not know what it is, and past history tells me that more laws will not fix the problem.

PamBG said...

Yes, my comments may be overgeneralized but I do think that money is absolutely at the foundation of most of our (Western but most especially American) cultural values. It's very hard to express because I think I see it very clearly and I get the impression that most people think I'm totally out on a limb on my observation (that's a nice way of saying "crazy" *grin*).

Money is so much at the root of our values that we don't even see it.

My questions are from a Christian perspective, not from the perspective of the left or the right.

If big labor gets to buy a certain spin and big business gets to buy another spin, then how do - for example - the elderly poor buy their voice and their spin? How do they put their perspective across about how they see life from their perspective? (Please don't anyone suggest that their vote equals tens of millions of dollars spent on publicizing half-truths)

I'm not sure what the political solution is either, it just turns my stomach to equate money-buying-spin with "freedom of speech".

Would candidates' really be in an unequal position if no one at all was allowed to buy spin? I'm not going to unthinkingly defend the left. I agree with you that Obama has already compromised a number of his promises. I am more than happy for these guidelines to apply to the left as well as to the right. I'm not trying to be a lefty, I'm trying to be a Christian.

Allan R. Bevere said...

"Money is so much at the root of our values that we don't even see it."

I am certainly not going to argue with you on that one.

As far as candidates being in an unequal position, that's a good question. The conventional wisdom says yes, but maybe we should think about that a little more.

What about the UK? How does it work over there?

PamBG said...

Regulations for campaign spending by political parties here: http://tinyurl.com/yj3cq4w

Regulations for "third parties" here: http://tinyurl.com/ygcrjg6

By the way, I don't want to be uncritical about life in the UK, either.

Bruce said...

My thought is that if we cannot regulate and control the influence of corporate money corrupting the political process, then we should ban it. Shouldn't we try to control and regulate something that does not seek the common good of the nation, but seeks profit and advantage in business to the harm of other businesses and the nation as a whole?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

If we want to remain individuals who have a choice and a voice, then politics should be free (as much as possible) from the corruption of buying a vote. Self-interest in this instance, is abuse of power.

Self-interest is necessary if a free society is to remain free. Otherwise, the individual will no longer matter, as has come to be the case today. Fortunately, citizens do have recourse. But, unfortunately, some might not have the means or the time to "fight in the courts" a BIG corporation. And the individual that is preyed upon by tax-exempt organizations are left to die alone, because of their lack of co-operation and they might not wim in the courts, because of the advantages of these types of organizations.