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)

Monday, February 01, 2010

A Rational Perspective on the Supreme Court and Corporate Campaign Money

The latest decision by the Supreme Court on allowing corporations to pay for campaign advertising directly out of their treasuries instead of from their political action committees, has generated more heat than light in the debate. I have linked below what I think is a sane response from law professor Jonathan Turley, who indicates that either way this decision was not a no-brainer. Turley indicates that Justice Kennedy's majority opinion and Justice Steven's dissent are both excellent and convincing arguments.

Moreover, in an editorial in The New York Times, Linda Greenhouse rightly points out that President Obama was not right when he said in his State of the Union address that the SCOTUS overturned a century of law. (Frankly, that Mr. Obama would take a shot at the Court when they could only sit there mute, and knowing that the court would not respond publicly, was a small and immature moment for the President.) The issue in reality was a statute that was obtuse and complex. The other important point to make is that while corporations and unions can spend unlimited amounts of money on elections, they are still prohibited from directly contributing to politicians.

As I said in a post last week on this issue, I do not know what the right decision is here constitutionally, but Turley is right that it is quite a difficult decision, and that perhaps the answer here does not lie in going after the money, but in going after how campaigns and elections are run in the first place.

In a free society we are all able to express our views in reference to decisions of law even though few of us truly know it well, but let's stop all the talk about a corrupt court turning back a century of precedent. The only time anyone brings up precedent, they do so when it suits their argument. The same people feel free to discard it when they don't like the nature of what has preceded.

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Cross-Posted at RedBlueChristian


Tom Degan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Allan R. Bevere said...


I deleted your comment because of profanity, which is not allowed on this blog.

And by the way, your rant was completely irrelevant to the discussion.

However, if you would like to post it again, without the "gd" word or any other profanity, you are free to do so.

Bruce said...

Allan, you may not like precedent, but it is relavent to the discussion because it is a basis of how legal decisions are made. The issue is complex, but there are some questions that are not. For example, how can a corportation have the same civil rights as a citizen? A corporation is a legal entity created to engage in commerce, not a human being with civil rights. I think you are correct in citing Turley as asking the critical question concerning how compaigns and elections are designed and run. Which brings us right back to the beginning of the discussion. I still believe the court is wrong regarding the decision. Perhaps it would be better for all if we had a different venue for discussing, debating and developing good ideas for election design and operation.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Hi Bruce, I did not say that precedent was unimportant. I said two things: First, the the court did not go against precedent. The statute that was overturned was only seven or eight years old. Thus the President was wrong to say the court overturned a hundred years of precedent. Second, I stated that most people are only concered with precedent when it suits their argument. Civil rights legislation overturn centuries of precedent. No one would suggest today that such legislation upheld by the court should have been rejected because of precedent.

The issue has never been whether corporations have the same civil rights as individuals. That argument is a red herring. It's whether a collective of individuals have the same right to free speech as individuals themselves.

Bruce said...

Allan, I don't think the argument is a red herring. It is the heart of the argument against the court's ruling. Why should people who have rights, responsibilities and privileges as citizens be given more influence because they are part of an organization created for commerce? Are not people who are not part of a group or organization then deprived of a similar level of influence in elections? (Are these collectives not called political parties?) What gives a corporation the ability to act as a voting member of American democracy? Are groups that are not political parties free to act as one? The right of association is designed for development of new political parties and the right to protest. It is a stretch to link an organization created for commerce, or a church for that matter, with the establishment of political parties and the right to peaceful protest. Identity is not a red herring. Are these collectives citizens? Are they political parties? What are they and what are the rules governing their behavior? The whole thing moves politics another step further from citizens. Americans already have a terrible view of the political process. Rightly so! Many already think they cannot make a difference in politics. Here is one more decision telling them that they are right. Those corporations are smarter than individual citizens. They have the money. Let them buy legislation and offices. Why not? We just live here. The red herring is pretending that corporations,or other groups, defined as individuals forming a collective, will not further corrupt a political system awash in lobbying, vote buying, kickbacks and deception. The court completely misunderstands the state of American politics and cannot understand the popular outrage this decision ignited, or it understands very well. Either way, the implications are not good. Long ago we lost our innocence concerning politics, but that does not mean that Americans should surrender the political process to the richest collectives in existence. The golden rule has not changed much; those who have the gold rule. Why do we have to find it in the US Constitution?

Allan R. Bevere said...


We are not getting anywhere in this discussion. I think you have an oddly restrictive view of freedom of association. Given your definition, there would not be a whole lot of free associating going on. Whether you like it or not people have been associating in order to have influence for a long time. You also seem to have the idea that it is primarily money that decides elections. You seem to think that the average voter is gullible. Was it more money that put Barack Obama in office? How about George Bush? And I will say one more time. Big money will find its way into elections regardless of the laws or the lack thereof. Corporations and union were spending a lot of money before. They just had to do it indirectly.

You write, "The court completely misunderstands the state of American politics and cannot understand the popular outrage this decision ignited, or it understands very well."

It's not the job of the Court to interpret the law based on the public outrage that their decision might engender (And I am not seeing all kinds of outrage anyway. Where are all the protests?) Their task is to rule on the law, not based on what the public might think of their ruling.

As I said before, I do like all the money spent on campaigning. My concern is less a matter of the so-called buying of elections. I think it is a travesty that so much money is frankly wasted that can go to more significant things.

I'm a big believer in free speech and that the government ought not to be restricting it, whether it is from an individual or a group.

As far as what this will do to the politics of elections... we will just have to wait and see.

Bruce said...

Allan, I also am a big believer in free speech. That is why I find the decision to be wrong. The free speech of the individual citizen should not be marginalized by collectives, especially corportations. My comment about the court has nothing to do with how the court decides issues. My comment is about a court that gives civil rights and priveleges designed for people to collectives. The loss of clarity between citizens, political parties, and collectives leads us to a system that is wide open to abuse. The political system needs to have clarity in who is doing what. The use of free speech and right of association as foundations for corporations to act as citizens blurs boundaries, behaviors and accountability. This sets a new precedent and charts a new course in American politics that is unpredictable and very open to further corruption.
I am not blind to the logic of giving what is essentialy a group of citizens the same rights as individual citizens. However, groups, or collectives, are not all the same. Some can have the same rights as citizens and some should not have those rights. Corporations and foreign governments come to mind quickly. Current political behavior is horribly corrupted by the actions and influence of foreign governments and foreign and domestic corportations. The court's ruling rolls back attempts to limit these kinds of corrupting influences.
I am amazed that you can dismiss the issue of money in politics with a simple, "I don't like it." The influence money buys absolutely plays a major role in deciding elections, setting legislative agendas, and marginalizing individual voters. Money played a huge role in putting both Obama and Bush in the White House. Ask George Soros about his donations to Obama and the current influence he now has with this administration. How many visits has he made to the White House? Your take on money is that it will always find it's way into politics. So lets just let it flow, work its magic and go about our business. Warren Buffet was asked if he thought class warfare existed. He answered in effect, of course and we're winning. Meaning the very rich. Since the end of WW2 to 1979 the top 1% of wage earners made 9.4 times as much as the bottom 90%. The top 0.1% made 21 times as much as the bottom 90%. Since that time the top 1% doubled to 18.% times as much as the bottom 90%. And the top 0.1% jumped to 70 times as much as the bottom 90%. That is an incredible transfer of wealth from the bottom 90% of wage earners to the top 1%. Literally trillions of dollars were redistributed to the wealthiest Americans. It happened due to legistlation, tax code changes and conscious effort. (These figures come from the Economic Policy Institute reported by Paul Campos) Now it appears that the supreme court can be purchased. Yes, Allan, money does control politics in America. Asking for clarity, transperancy and guidelines for how money works in American politics is hardly radical, unreasonable, or too complex to achieve.