Good for Media, Bad for Democracy

illustration from the Sacramento Bee

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 this week that corporations and unions can spend enormous amounts of money to influence future political campaigns.

The Court’s majority calls it “free speech” under the First Amendment.

I disagree. The Founding Fathers adopted the First Amendment as a statement of individual freedoms — freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press.

Individuals vote.  Individuals determine the course of our democracy.

Corporations do not vote.  Corporations should not be allowed to use their money in unregulated ways to try to influence and buy votes in a democracy.

The case was Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Five justices on the Court became judicial activists in writing a sweeping opinion that lifts a federal ban on corporate political spending for federal campaigns, rather than issuing a ruling on narrow merits as is the norm.

Now the question is, just how much money will corporations directly pump into political spending?  A Common Cause report using data from the Center for Responsive Politics reveals that corporations spent $6 billion lobbying Congress in the last election cycle. If they put that much into political ads, it would more than double the $3 billion total spent on political and issue advertising in the 2008 congressional and presidential election.

It’s simply wrong to let corporations — which do not have the right to vote — seek to buy elections. The Supreme Court does not give corporations unlimited freedoms in other First Amendment areas. For instance, false advertising by a corporation has no First Amendment protection.

The Court’s decision on corporate political contributions certainly will benefit the media. Billions of dollars more in campaign advertising will now flow into the U.S. communication system. That will provide blessed revenue to media, but at a perilous cost to democracy.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Freedom of Expression, Media and Politics

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