Supreme Court: Exxon and Wal-Mart Are People Too! Supreme Court: Exxon and Wal-Mart Are People Too!
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Supreme Court: Exxon and Wal-Mart Are People Too!

by Andrew Price

January 23, 2010
Today the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that corporations will no longer be banned from spending huge amounts of money on presidential or Congressional elections. The legal argument was basically about whether or not corporate-funded media designed to influence elections should be protected as free speech under the First Amendment. The decision was "Yes, it should."Richard Hasan has a good primer on the case and a summary of the ruling:
Today the court struck down decades-old limits on corporate and union spending in elections (including judicial elections) and opened up our political system to a money free-for-all.
TreeHugger explains the effect this will have on candidates and elections vis a vis the environment that sustains our lives (but not corporate profits):
You guessed it--it means trouble. It's no mystery that the energy reform already faced tough opposition from the better-funded status quo fossil fuel industries of oil and coal. Remember, last summer Exxon spent more money on lobbying than the entire clean energy industry combined. It spent a total of $46 million on lobbying alone--where there weren't any restrictions on spending in place--in 2008. And the clean energy and jobs bill just barely passed the House. Now, it's free to support whichever candidate speaks up in favor of oil--with an almost limitless supply of funding.
Here are some more opinions on how this will actually change the ads we'll see:
While it does apply to unions and corporations equally, [Democratic election lawyer Marc] Elias said the presumption is that corporations have more money to spend. ... [GOP election lawyer Robert] Kelner said the ruling will not result in major corporations running their own advertising, but he said money will be able to flow more freely to trade associations.... "You will see more sharp-edged, candidate-specific ads on the air closer to the election," [former general counsel at the DNC Joe] Sandler said. "That could make it more difficult for incumbents to take tough votes in an election year."
Here, via Boing Boing is Larry Lessig's take:[
/youtube]Dahlia Lithwick paints a vivid picture of what it was like in the courtroom, including this excerpt from Kennedy, who authored the majority opinion:
"When government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought. This is unlawful. The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves."
I think that argument is ridiculous myself. Limiting whether corporations can spend money on elections doesn't limit what any individual in that corporation can say or think. And, in fact, when a corporation uses its collective resources to advocate for a candidate that any number of its employees may not support, that strikes me as compromising their free speech.But the nuances of the legal argument aside, if Kennedy's ultimate goal is to avoid the control of thought by powerful forces larger than the individual, allowing moneyed special interests to drown the airwaves with their message because they can buy the biggest bullhorn would seem to work against his aims in practice.Image credit (cc)
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Supreme Court: Exxon and Wal-Mart Are People Too!