Sunday, January 24, 2010

Corporate Political Advertisements

Recently, in a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations and unions have the right to spend their general funds on urging a candidate's success or defeat, through advertisements or other means.

One of the majority justices wrote, "No sufficient governmental interest justifies limits on the political speech of nonprofit or for-profit corporation."

This logic follows from the idea that giving money is considered free speech, and by restricting the speech of profit or nonprofit organizations (like the Hillary Clinton movie under the McCain-Feinberg Act) is wrongful censorship. Another majority justice said that, "when a government seeks to use its full power, including to criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information... it uses cenorship to control thought."

But can't advertisements paid for by massive corporations also control thought...and the government? This supreme court ruling makes it possible for corporations to throw millions and millions more dollars at campaign advertisement than ever before, without limitation. What if a politician were backed by, say, Google or Microsoft? Would smaller, less wealthy voices have a chance at being heard, even if they made up a substantial part of the population?

The problem I see with the idea that limitations on corporations is the same thing as "censorship" is that members of a corporation have the same right to free expression as anyone else: they can write a book, letter, blog, or editorial piece just like any other American-- but they have far more money than the vast majority of individuals, and nonprofit groups like labor unions, as well. Additionally, it is estimated that republicans would benefit more from this law change than Democrats because Republicans/conservatives tend to have more corporate backing than liberal or union groups.

Oneopinion piece writes: "If there is one place on earth where people should be free to join together and pool their resources to inform their fellow citizens about public issues, that place is America," because this was part of the "founding fathers' purpose in writing the Free Speech Clause." And it is true that the vast majority of major media outlets are large, for-profit organizations, and limits to corporations' speech could also, as a result, limit the press's speech overall.

But is a corporation really that significantly similar to a person, or even a group of people sharing the same opinion, or a news outlet, for that matter? Do you think they should be given the same rights to "free speech" for politicians as individuals, despite the fact they can't even vote? Should money be considered free speech at all? Do you think this sort of change would make our government more or less representative? Can we say what the Founding Fathers would have wanted in this scenario?

How "free" is free speech, if corporations' spending is unlimited?

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