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)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Once Again, Freedom of Speech and Political Campaigns

Here we go again... a proposed constitutional amendment (which will fail anyway) will take away the right of corporations to freely expressing themselves during political campaigns, which will mean, among other things that almost all newspapers and TV commentators will be unable to offer their political commentary. Eugene Volokh clearly states the chilling effects of such an amendment.

Nearly all newspapers, TV stations, cable networks, and radio stations (except of course for nonprofits such as NPR) are organized as corporations or other entities established for business purposes. Under section 3, they "shall be prohibited" from making expenditures "in any election of any candidate ... or the vote upon any ballot measure." Since to write or print or broadcast anything, newspapers, networks, and broadcasters must spend money, this would ban — not just authorize Congress to ban, but itself ban — editorials supporting or opposing a candidate or a ballot measure. ("Shall be" in the Constitution is generally language that indicates that something becomes the law without further Congressional action, e.g., "This Constitution ... shall be the supreme Law of the Land" and "The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.")

I'm with Henry Neufeld on this. He writes,

The proper response to corporate money is for people to get together and use what they do have to communicate the message and get others involved in the process. I'm not a fan of the big corporations either, but I see the largest problem as the fact that they tend to control the regulatory agencies intended to regulate them. Once you have big money combined with the power of government, you are much worse off.

Yep, Henry... the problem is that some folk are only for the free speech they agree with. Everyone else must be silenced; and the best way to do that is through the law.


Anonymous said...

I see it a bit differently. Methinks most of this so-called "free speech" going on between corporations and politicians is little more than thinly-veiled bribery, all done legally, of course, with the blessing of the Supreme Court.

One can talk about "free speech" on a purely theoretical basis all day. But in the real world, those with millions or billions of dollars can buy a lot more air time and political influence than those without a trainload of cash.

The reality is, one cannot hope to win any political office on a state or federal level without boatloads of money these days. John Kasich was "given" eighteen MILLION dollars to win an office that pays $145,000 a year.

I'm sure no one on this page is naive enough to believe all that campaign money does not come with gigantic strings attached to it. Call it whatever you want, it's BRIBERY. And it's a bi-partisan activity. As far as I am concerned, I see no difference, in real terms, between a cash payment to a legislator in exchange for a favorable vote on a particular issue, and a campaign contribution that is made in exchange for a favorable vote on a particular issue.

Seriously, does anyone really believe G.E., Lehman Brothers, and a plethora of government contractors DO NOT buy favorable votes for themselves with campaign donations?

As a citizen, I don't care if FOX News or MSNBC wants to run their propaganda all day long or spend the billions necessary to do so. I do care if FOX News uses a lobbyist to "gain access" to a Congressman with a "generous campaign donation", a.k.a legalized bribery. There is a difference between those two scenarios. The first is free speech. The second is bribery to purchase an advantage over the rest of the constituency.

If the wording of this constitutional amendment prevents media companies (or anyone else) from using their own funds to broadcast opinions, I would be opposed to it.

But I am in favor of strict limits to any direct campaign contributions, on both a personal and corporate level. I would also like to see a total limit on the amount a candidate could spend on his or her campaign. I think that would at least level the playing field a bit, without violating anyone's right to free speech.

I know my ideas about this will never be implemented, because I don't have the funds to purchase my Congressman. And Congressmen cannot keep their built-in campaign advantage that comes from lobbyists if they pass laws to restrict that activity. But I suspect most Americans understand that "pay to play" is what really constitutes "free speech" these days in Washington, the Statehouse, and to some extent, the local level.

I don't think it too off the mark to say that we have the best government money can buy. We are rapidly moving to a modern equivalent of a medieval society with a facade of democracy. Except the corrupt marriage this time will be corporations and state, instead of church and state.

What is moving us in that direction is LOBBYING.

- Don Cirelli

PamBG said...

Corporations are groups of people who get together for the central purpose of making money. Exxon and Apple and Bank of America have the big bucks to buy advertising and candidates and keep our society's eyes on money, power and influence. Of course they are going to vote against weak and poor and ill. But poor them, they have no way of making their voices heard unless they put the politicians in their pocket.

It's bribery and not thinly veiled either.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Don, no one says that the system is good. And there is much you say with which I agree. But I would remind you that the so-called campaign finance reform (before it was declared unconstitutional) did not keep corporate money out of campaigns and advertising. The folks behind the scenes just found other avenues.

Also, freedom of speech is always about influence. And you mention FOX news and bribery; don't forget Jeffrey Immelt, who serves as an advisor to President Obama, and whose parent company, GE, owns MSNBC. It doesn't take much smarts to know that both networks are working behind the scenes to have implemented the agendas they're pushing every weeknight.

I can tell you as sure as I am writing this that if such a constitutional amendment were passed, it would shut the mouths of people who should be allowed to express themselves, and big donors would still be working their "magic" behind the scenes. And politicians would be even more in the driver's seat when it comes to calling their shots in reference to bribery.

The best approach is what Henry suggests-- a counter-offensive.

Allan R. Bevere said...

So, Pam, let's make a law that says anyone who would vote against the weak and the poor (which would probably be defined by a liberal), is not allowed to express their political views.

I thought free speech was about protecting even those views we find objectionable.

PamBG said...

Allen, I think it's very easy to make the kind of de jure case you are making here about "freedom of speech" but it seems to me to very clearly against natural justice.

Every corporate President and Board Member and shareholder, for that matter, is free to vote how they wish.

Why is it a good thing for human individuals to get together into a multiplicity of groups, each of which we deem to be a separate "person" and to collectively throw their weight around?

Who decided that a "group" of people (e.g. "corporations" or "collectives") should have rights equal to individual human beings?

Of course, it is going to be the powerful who get together to gang up on the less powerful in any situation. That's human sin. Why should I, as a Christian, defend this? There is a line somewhere between not giving a darn about my social sin on the one hand and forming groups to encourage my social sin and claiming that those groups have natural rights on the other hand.

For my money, this comes under the category of "Just because it sounds fair in a de jure sense doesn't make it moral."

Anonymous said...

"The best approach is what Henry suggests-- a counter-offensive."

In theory, it sounds reasonable. But pray tell, how would the poor run such a "counter-offensive" against corporations with astronomical funding? I'm a bit hard-pressed to see how that would make waves in the halls of Congress.

The whole name of the game in politics is money - specifically campaign money. How do the poor buy themselves a Congressman to counteract the rich man's Congressman?

- Don Cirelli

Allan R. Bevere said...


I think all these issue go back to things we have talked about in the past;

1. The whole issue of "person" as separated from human being is nonsensical to me, period.

2. I am not crazy about supporting any notion that has the word "natural" in front of it. It's one of those de jure things you speak of.

3. The Supreme Court decided that corporations have rights the same as human beings. The same folks who brought you Roe V. Wade. What more should I say? Why is it the left who seems so hell bent on deciding who is or is not a person?

4. As a Christian you should not defend anything that is sinful and/or unjust. That's not the issue. The issue is whether or not those who support what is unjust should be muzzled.

Allan R. Bevere said...


Not all politicians can be bought. While I have no illusions about the power of money in politics, I do not believe that it's all as simple as buying a politician.

I do not view all of reality only through the lens of economic class. I think it is more complex.