Where’s the ACLU?

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

You always hear and see that phrase from right-leaning folks, typically when a white person, a Christian, or some other non-minority person is harmed in some way. I’m working on a column about why that criticism isn’t fair. But in researching it, I found a particularly nasty slagging of the organization that I thought I’d share with you. In the op-ed, published by a pretty prominent advocacy organization about one particular high-profile case, the authors write:

…we are horrified by the ACLU’s betrayal of political reality and plain common sense…

Long ago it defended the right of American neo-nazis to march through Skokie, a heavily Jewish suburb of Chicago.

The ACLU has also defended the right of such loathsome haters as the Ku Klux Klan to gather and speak….

Turning to the specific case their piece is about, the writers then argue that the ACLU’s position . . .

. . . is the equivalent not of guaranteeing individual Nazis the freedom to march, but instead of granting the Party itself the right to drive tanks down the street, guns ablazing.

It’s not the same as giving individual Klan members the right to hold a rally, but rather for the organization to do public lynchings as part of a terror campaign aimed at taking tangible power.

The writers also state that the authors of the First Amendment would be “horrified,” that the people the ACLU defended in this case are “anti-human,” and “the enemies of democracy.”

So take a guess where the op-ed appeared, and to which case the authors are reacting. Then check here to see how you did.

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65 Responses to “Where’s the ACLU?”

  1. #1 |  Judas Peckerwood | 

    Love ya, Radley, but I have to disagree strongly with your all-out defense of Citizens United and unbridled election spending by corporations, unions and other non-humans (ignoring the abomination of corporate personhood).

    Fine, let’s have unlimited campaign contributions from individual citizens, properly reported to the FEC. But allowing organizations funded by anonymous donors to seize control of our elections will be the death of our nation.

  2. #2 |  Alex | 

    yeah let’s keep money out of politics

  3. #3 |  Juice | 

    Any argument for limiting campaign speech/money is arguing that voters are stupid, lazy, and easily swayed.

    Hmm, well, I guess they have a point.

  4. #4 |  KBCraig | 

    Not surprising. The “politically correct” supression of free speech originated on the left, in higher education.

    The most common “conservative” complaint about the ACLU is their stance that the 2nd Amendment is a collective right, rather than individual. But, each state CLU is autonomous, and we’re seeing more and more cases of the state organizations standing up for all civil liberties, rather than selected ones.

    Juda Peckerwood, anonymous corporate donations aren’t the problem in politics. The problem is the power in politics that invites money and corruption. If the federal government were truly constrained to the limits of the Constitution, most candidates could easily self-fund their campaigns. Nobody would seek to buy an office, because there would be no return on the investment.

  5. #5 |  BSK | 

    Radley, I look forward to that column.

    I share Judas’s concerns about the extension of rights to corporations. A major function of corporations, LLCs specifically, is to limit the liability of individuals in the corporation and, as a result, the corporation itself. In doing so, they explicitly reject their “personhood”. If a corporation has the same rights as a person, it must also have the same responsibilities in holding and employing those rights. A corporation cannot go to jail (and lord knows that many have engaged in practices that would justify throwing the whole lot of those involved in prison). If individuals want to donate their money, so be it: do what you will. But corporations are not people. They never were and they never will be. They are explicitly non-persons.

  6. #6 |  Windypundit | 

    I don’t think “Free Speech” means what they think it means. By the way, Alternet is a publication of the Independent Media Institute, a California Corporation.

  7. #7 |  B | 

    Count me in as a libertarian who reflexively supported the Citizens United ruling when it came down, and eventually had my mind changed about it. Corporations aren’t people, money isn’t speech, and the state is not the only institution whose scope and power we should be concerned about.

  8. #8 |  BSK | 


    Great point about the other aspect of this: equating money to speech.

    This is something I’ve generally always been confused about. Why can’t I, as an individual citizen, create a political commercial without “approval” of the candidate in question? Isn’t that an abridgment of my free speech? Obviously, I can’t be slanderous or libelous and, if I am, I would have to assume the responsibility for that. Any individual should be able to make a commercial or any other form of political campaigning they want, so long as they take whatever responsibility comes with that. Obviously, some of us are in a better position to do this than others, with our ability to do so correlating closely with our bank accounts, but where is that not the case? And it’s still pretty cheap to stand on a street corner and leaflet or hold a sign or just yell.

    Should this type of free speech be extended to corporations? Again, only if they are capable of assuming responsibility.

  9. #9 |  Les | 

    I guessed right. Yay for me.

    But allowing organizations funded by anonymous donors to seize control of our elections will be the death of our nation.

    See, this is part of the problem. Just as the article equated not limiting the speech of individuals who work together in groups to allowing Nazi’s to “drive tanks down the street, guns ablazing,” the idea that our nation will die because of a lack of restrictions on campaign spending (as opposed to the fantasy of anonymous people “seizing control of our elections”) is, to me, utterly divorced from reality. It’s no different than when conservatives say that our nation will be killed by socialized medicine or gay marriage. It’s pure hyperbole, with no constructive purpose.

    But corporations are not people. They never were and they never will be. They are explicitly non-persons.

    Wendy Kaminer made a great point about this.

    …the insistence that ‘corporations aren’t people’ is employed selectively: The 4th and 5th amendments explicitly apply to ‘people’ and ‘persons,’ but I have yet to hear any liberal advocate of campaign finance reform argue that the government may subject corporations to unreasonable searches and seizures or prosecutions devoid of due process.”

    The rest of her very intelligent (and very liberal) take on this issue is here:


  10. #10 |  Marty | 

    I have issues with corporations, too. the argument that corporations have rights seems ludicrous to me. Giving corporations protection under the 14th amendment was a really horrible idea.

  11. #11 |  BSK | 

    Are we going to allow corporations to vote? To bare arms? Oh wait… they can’t… because they’re not tangible. Corporations can’t sign checks. A person has to. By doing so under the guise of the corporation, the individual avoids taking accountability and responsibility for that check.

    I’m not arguing that corporations shouldn’t exist. Only that, if they want to assume certain rights, then they must also assume the responsibilities that come with those rights. Right now, they do everything to avoid that.

  12. #12 |  Windypundit | 

    Corporations are owned and run by people who as individuals have the right to free speech. Why should those people lose their right to free speech just because they have decided to pool their resources to pay for the production and distribution of their message?

  13. #13 |  Alex | 

    Windypundit- yes! thank you! The people who say corporations aren’t people tend to not address that.

  14. #14 |  tarran | 

    Citizens United did not decree that corporations are people. Anyone who tells you that is either seriously misled or is lying. Period.

    What the court ruled was that you couldn’t have one law for the New York Times, and another law for Exxon. If the New York Times is allowed to endorse candidates and give them publicity by writing about them, then so is Exxon. If the New York Times can pay someone to produce the content, than so can Exxon.

    Now, if you are in favor of violating the first Amendment and forbidding the New York Times from publishing anything, I will applaud you for your consistency, if not your reading comprehension.

  15. #15 |  BSK | 


    Interesting. Thank you for weighing in on that. But don’t we already draw distinctions between the “press” and other companies/corporations? Perhaps those distinctions are artificial and should not be, but there is precedent for treating them differently.


    They still retain their rights. They can (or should be able to) donate money all they want and produce whatever messages they want. But they have to put their name to it, in the event that they cross any legal boundaries.

  16. #16 |  pyo1 | 

    Once we throw money in the picture, it diminishes the single vote! Any person or company can support a candidate if they so choose. Once they throw money it looks like they have some interest in getting that person in. Let these idiots finance their own campaigns and the future candidates will think twice! Let them pay for their own wardrobes, travel expenses and such affect them personally!

  17. #17 |  Aresen | 

    I got Citizens United right, but guessed The Nation for part 2, do I get half-marks on that?

    As for Corporations not having 2nd amendment rights, anybody here ever hear of Pinkerton’s, Wackenhut, or Blackwater?

  18. #18 |  Nate | 

    First of all, plenty of candidates with superior capitalization have lost. Also, the right to anonymous speech is just as fundamental as any other. This isn’t just about silencing Exxon or whatever your favorite evil corporation is. It’s about your trade union, the NRA, (the Times as mentioned earlier) as well as the ACLU. How could you knock the ACLU for engaging in a little self-defense?

  19. #19 |  Fred Mangels | 

    tarran wrote, What the court ruled was that you couldn’t have one law for the New York Times, and another law for Exxon.

    Exactly, and to me this is the crux of this issue. Many people are in favor of some sort of so- called “campaign finance reform”. The problem I have with people upset about corporate campaign contributions is the majority of these people- and I mean the VAST majority of them- want contributions from businesses restricted, but not unions, or other left- wing type organizations.

    If these folks would have finance restrictions applied equally, I might not have much to say about it, but they don’t. They just want to limit the ability of what they feel is the opposition to raise money.

  20. #20 |  Z | 

    Money is not speech. Corporations are not people. The whole point of the first amendment was to give a voice to all PEOPLE regardless of whether the majority liked what they had to say or not. It was never meant to be used to allow modern day robber barons to buy elections.

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    The amendment talks about people assembling and petitioning their leaders the way they wanted to speak to King George but couldn’t.
    It was never ever about letting 0.25% of the country control it. It was never about having the guy with the loudest bullhorn win. Never.

  21. #21 |  Kevin | 


    You agree with B that “money isn’t speech.” But then you wrote, “They [Inidividuals] can (or should be able to) donate money all they want and produce whatever messages they want.” If you follow the “money isn’t speech” argument completely, then I see no real reason why the government couldn’t stop individuals from contributing any amount of money for any message. If money isn’t speech, why would you think individuals “can (or should be able to) donate all the money they want”? A government ban on individuals donating money for any cause would be constitutional because the constitution only protects speech, not the money. The “money isn’t speech” is only ever applied to corporations. But if it is true, then money coming from individuals isn’t speech either and can be subject to any amount of government control.

    I agree with you about the selective

  22. #22 |  Kevin | 

    Sorry about the split message. Les, I agree about the selective approach to applying rights to corporations. I am waiting to hear that the government can search and seize any corporate documents they want without a warrant.

  23. #23 |  noseeum | 

    A fundamental aspect of any freedom is that your freedoms should not encroach on mine. This is why I cannot accept that money is speech. If money is speech, than those who have money have the freedom to speak, and those who don’t do not.

    For all intents and purposes, you cannot be heard in Washington these days unless you pay someone. How is that freedom?

  24. #24 |  Buddy Hinton | 

    Police Your Own First,

    what are you doing on this thread? It is not a popo-thread!

  25. #25 |  luvzbob | 

    “Corporations are owned and run by people who as individuals have the right to free speech. Why should those people lose their right to free speech just because they have decided to pool their resources to pay for the production and distribution of their message?”

    For the simple the reason that corporations are granted special legal status (in the interests of promoting the general welfare) that places them on an unequal footing.

  26. #26 |  David in Balt | 

    Something I did not see brought up by anyone else is that, unfortunately, corporations provide the best way for people to collectively pool their money to achieve an end. Corporations allow for groups, such as Citizens United, to write a binding agreement of goals, elect officials to oversee those goals implementation, and be relatively sure that money given to that group, for those purposes, are used for them. I agree whole heartedly that we should move to a situation where corporations are not given the rights of people, and that the corporate ‘veil’ becomes more like tissue paper (very, very easily punctured), but until that happens we are at an impasse. If someone else is aware of a legal structure for pooling money that allows the control of investors that a small corporation does I am all ears. If not then lets work towards creating one, but until then I still see Citizens United as a win for free speech.

    Z — I know, lets socialize the media so that the government can give a voice to everyone! There is -no- way they would use it to suppress speech even more then it is now. Oh, wait… never mind.

  27. #27 |  BSK | 

    “If money isn’t speech, why would you think individuals “can (or should be able to) donate all the money they want”?”

    I think they should be able to because it is their money and they should determine how to spend it. That is not explicitly outlined in the Bill of Rights. But I’m sure it is a sentiment we can all agree to.

    As someone else pointed out, anonymous speech is important as well. I did not mean to advocate that everyone had to attach their name to everything they ever say. But, in the event that they do cross a line with their speech, such as being slanderous or libelous or yelling “FIRE!” in a movie theater, ideally they would be found and help responsible. That is a lot harder to do with corporations, specifically because of the special legal status they have that limits the extent to which they can be held accountable. Now, perhaps this legal status should be amended or waived if making contributions. But corporations should not be allowed to enjoy the rights of “personhood” with none of the responsibilities.

    And, I would apply this policy across the board, not just to businesses but also to trade unions and the like. Obviously, the press presents a different situation, but we already set them apart, as is demanded by the Constitution.

    So, to suffice, I am advocating that we:
    1.) Allow individuals to donate how they see fit and create political messages freely, so long as they accept responsibility for their messages.
    2.) No corporations are allowed to make donations while enjoying limited liability.
    3.) The press is allowed to endorse candidates but not make contributions.
    4.) I suppose I don’t see any issues with corporations endorsing candidates, but I haven’t full thought that through.

  28. #28 |  Nate | 

    “such as being slanderous or libelous or yelling “FIRE!” in a movie theater.”
    If it’s slander, then you have to do police work to find the speaker. There is no burden on the speaker to do the work for an investigator. Yelling “FIRE!” is not about free speech, if there is no fire then it is fraud and you are liable for damages, if it is true then it is what is required of a good person, hopefully the theater has alarms installed for just such a purpose and learned the lesson of Triangle Shirtwaist and installed outward opening doors. I’ve always really hated that example of a limit to free speech, the legal distinction between the two cases seems a no brainer to me.

  29. #29 |  Tannim | 

    OK, people are missing the fundamentals here, so let’s rehash them.

    First, corporations, businesses, governments, or any artificial entity, sanctioned by the force of government or not, are not people. They do not bleed, breathe, breed, die, give birth, or are jailed. Their existence is because of paperwork and nothing more.

    As such, as artificial entities, they do not enjoy the fundamental rights of persons as we know them under the law as a condition of our existence, and that includes free speech.

    Under sanction of law, however, they may be granted the *privilege* of free speech that persons enjoy as a right, and there is where the lines have been improperly blurred, and where SCOTUS got it completely wrong. A privilege under law is not a right by existence, and that is why campaign finance laws directed at curtailing that privilege (as opposed to regulating the speech of persons) is perfectly valid, and why SCOTUS got it completely wrong in Citizens United (as they tend to do on 80% of their rulings).

    What we’ve also seen here is a complete reversal of roles as well. Now the right of free speech had become a privilege, limited to caged “free speech zones” and only if you say what the PTB want you to say.

    THAT is the real problem, and even the ACLU doesn’t seem to understand it. SCOTUS sure doesn’t, and Congress either does and deliberately ignores it, or they too are oblivious, blinded by corporate cash to fund their incumbency.

  30. #30 |  Johnny Clamboat | 

    First, corporations, businesses, governments, or any artificial entity, sanctioned by the force of government or not, are not people. They do not bleed, breathe, breed, die, give birth, or are jailed. Their existence is because of paperwork and nothing more.

    As such, as artificial entities, they do not enjoy the fundamental rights of persons as we know them under the law as a condition of our existence, and that includes free speech.

    I would say that all of that is irrelevant. The first amendment does not distinguish between citizens, groups of citizens, illegal immigrants, the Dutch et. al. The Bill of Rights applies to the government, not citizens or people.

  31. #31 |  Johnny Clamboat | 

    I got the case right as it seemed ridiculous enough for a link. I couldn’t begin to guess where the op-ed appeared, however.

  32. #32 |  Tannim | 

    Johnny, you need to read the Ninth Amendment.

  33. #33 |  Tannim | 

    And, no, Johnny, it is not irrelevant–it is the very heart of the matter.

  34. #34 |  Scott S | 

    I guess I’m not seeing the libertarian arguments. Anywhere here. Why restrict anything that people or corporations or whatever other entities do, if what is done is not harming people or committing fraud?

  35. #35 |  Cappy | 

    Here’s the way I look at it, until the government gets it’s friggin’ fingers out of the free market, then corporations (who are controlled by people) possess every right to campaign against the government’s interference.

  36. #36 |  paranoiastrksdp | 

    Sorry for O/T but…


    this puppycide includes *actual* puppies.

  37. #37 |  Judas Peckerwood | 

    “Here’s the way I look at it, until the government gets it’s friggin’ fingers out of the free market, then corporations (who are controlled by people) possess every right to campaign against the government’s interference.”

    Cappy, the problem is that big corporations to a large extent already control the government through massive infusions of money into elections, lobbying and other activities that the average citizen couldn’t dream of engaging in. And in return, we have our government shoveling our tax money into the pockets of those same special interests in the form of endless wars, “homeland security” spending, the privatized prison industry, corporate bailouts … you get the picture. And this hasn’t led to strengthening competition or the imaginary free market –– just the opposite.

  38. #38 |  Les | 

    @34, the libertarian arguments can be seen at #’s 9, 12, 13, 14, 18, 21, 26.

  39. #39 |  Les | 

    As such, as artificial entities, they do not enjoy the fundamental rights of persons as we know them under the law as a condition of our existence, and that includes free speech.

    So, then, you believe that the government should be able to search corporate buildings without a warrant? You believe that the government should be able to apply certain restrictions to, say, black owned or gay owned corporations, while not applying them to corporations owned and operated by white people?

    That’s the logical conclusion of the “corporations are not people” argument.

  40. #40 |  Marty | 

    I think I’m lining up with Judas, here. To me, allowing multi-national corporations this much power is scary. Corporations aren’t people, they’re amoebas that employ people. The military industrial complex, monsanto and their secret police force, etc are abusing us with propaganda, lobbyists, etc. So many politicians walk away from their life in public disservice to do even more damage as corporate lobbyists… These corporations exercise their rights to build factories in third world nations to save labor costs, but when shit goes bad, they want the US to send in the Marines to protect ‘US interests’… I don’t think this is as simple as ‘free market’ and ‘free speech’- special interest groups have corrupted this argument.
    I’m all for unfettered markets and free speech- but let’s eliminate the corporate puppets we have in govt and eliminate the special protections and welfare these businesses enjoy and then do it.

  41. #41 |  Highway | 

    This is the wrong argument. It’s the same argument that people always make. “Government would be fine if *the right people* are in charge.”

    And that’s complete crap. If government has power, it’s going to attract the *wrong* people. Every single time. Because those people are willing to shelve their integrity to get the thing that matters: government power.

    So the argument is that corporations are ‘buying’ government power in their favor (thereby putting ‘the wrong people’ in charge). But money doesn’t necessarily cause votes. How many times do we see the big spender in an election fail to win? Unions spent more money than corporations did last election, yet the ‘pro-union’ candidates that were in trouble lost.

    All interests are ‘special interests’. And special interests ALWAYS win. If there’s two sides to an issue, then to the people on each side, the people on the other side are the ‘special interest’. I’d suggest everyone read Jonathan Rauch’s book: The End of Government. It does a good job explaining why narrow interests always do better than broad interests in getting government to help them.

    But the major point is that it’s not the money. It’s not who is ‘allowed’ to spend it. It’s the power in the government that attracts the money, attracts lobbying, attracts the arguing, and attracts those people who are willing to do what it takes to get in power.

  42. #42 |  JOR | 

    Restricting the amount of money corporations can contribute to political campaigns is not a very serious way to go about limiting corporate power.

    And preventing “private*” capture of political power (by e.g. making the government completely unaccountable to anyone) seems like a counterproductive end to pursue, if the aim is something like justice or liberty.

    *In truth, all interests are private, including those of the government itself. Government is a patchwork of private rackets, gangs, debate clubs, and petty bureaucracies that pursue their varying private interests, institutional and otherwise.

  43. #43 |  DB | 

    What possible Constitutional argument is there for the position that a group loses the protections of speech and publication when it incorporates (unless the federal government [!] gives it a “press” exemption, which should apply to everyone)? And what does limited liability have to do with anything if no one is supposed to be punished for political speech in the first place?

  44. #44 |  Cyto | 

    I’m shocked at the number of people here who fall in line with the statist line that only state sanctioned entities can speak about political matters, and then only in ways limited by the state. It is patently ridiculous on the face of it.

    Let me posit something. Suppose you are living in a small town and you don’t like the way the sheriff is running the police department. Everyone knows he’s on the take and he shakes down local businesses. So you decide to do something. You stand in the town square and hold a sign in protest.

    Sounds like everyone here agrees that this is within your rights of free speech. But you aren’t the only person who wants to do something. Several of your neighbors agree with you and join your protest. You all sing and chant together in the square. Still ok, right?

    But nobody goes to the town square, so your little protest is pretty ineffective. So you decide to get your message out a little more professionally. You hire a graphic artist to design posters and a printer to print them up. To do this you had to pool your resources – you just became a political advocacy group. Congratulations, you have to register with the state and list all of your contributors and their contributions. And you can’t speak about the election pending in two weeks because of campaign finance restrictions. Where the heck did that come from? When you were acting on your own you had no such restriction, but if you decide to coordinate with others, suddenly you can’t speak freely?

    Why not? Is it because “big money” will destroy democracy? Or is it because those in power like to make sure that nobody can threaten their power?

    Look at our little sheriff example. All of you advocates of “transparency”, how does your wonderful model of transparency work now? A corrupt sheriff trumps up charges against your little group’s members – maybe one of your kids gets a drug arrest – 20 years mandatory minimum. Still feel like speaking out against him publicly?

    You guys seem to think you are only talking about Ford Motor Company and General Electric. But you are also talking about your neighborhood homeowner’s association, the group of former waitresses who own 3 waffle house franchises along the interstate highway, and the group that owns the strip mall down the road. Pre-CU they could make their nice little $2,000 contributions to an officially sanctioned political group and call it a day. That doesn’t exactly get the job done if you’ve got a grave threat to your business and want your representatives to address it.

    Plus, you are missing the fact that those monster multinationals already get to “speak” any way they want, any time they want. The really big boys (like General Electric) own media companies that are not restricted by campaign speech laws. So all your simplistic restrictions do is ensure that only the politically powerful and the mega-rich have a voice in the modern marketplace of ideas.

    Free speech is codified precisely for *political* speech to be free. Nobody was worried about the state encroaching on your movie review, or what kind of dances you like to do. The whole point was to ensure that you can express your ideas in the arena of politics without interference from the state. Of course there are dangers associated with unrestricted free speech. They are just much less than the dangers associated with giving the government the power to restrict speech.

  45. #45 |  b-psycho | 

    Progressives have a point about corporations and government-granted privilege. The problem is they take that to mean we should limit speech conducted through institutions that hold government-granted privilege, rather than, um, stop granting privilege through the government in the first place.

  46. #46 |  b-psycho | 

    closing tag, just in case.

  47. #47 |  Judas Peckerwood | 

    Sorry, but most of the commenters here who are arguing the “what-ifs” of political speech are blatantly ignoring the “what-already-ares”.

    The fact is that nobody posting here (unless they’re a government or corporate sockpuppet, or a multi-millionaire) could stand against the powers-that-be in a fair fight –– think Julian Assange, somebody with far more juice than the average person. The reason? Because the rules are severely tilted in favor of big-money interests and the elected leaders they buy by dominating our political system. Cross them, and you are toast –– as any regular Agitator reader knows all too well.

    When it comes down to brass tacks, there should be only one force that’s allowed to influence our elections and our government… WE THE PEOPLE. Not corporations. Not unions. Not political action committees of any kind. Only the PEOPLE who are the foundation of our system of government.

  48. #48 |  Les | 

    Corporations, unions, and political action committees are created by and made up of PEOPLE.

    Also, soylent green is people.

  49. #49 |  Judas Peckerwood | 

    Politburos, juntas and dictatorships are created and made up of PEOPLE.

  50. #50 |  JOR | 

    #47, Well, fair enough, but then why expect the ruling class to limit itself? I mean the ruling class isn’t a monolith or anything, it’s logically possible that some of them could be persuaded to dismantle the system against the wishes of the rest of them (it’s even logically possible in the barest sense that they could all wake up tomorrow, decide they’ve been awful naughty all this time, and get real jobs) but surely there’s a better way to get by in life than trying to outplay them at their own game.

  51. #51 |  JOR | 


    Yes, yes they are. That’s sort of the point. “The people” (which ones? well, it goes for all of them) are going to organize on terms as close to their own as they can find, to pursue their own particular interests.

  52. #52 |  MPH | 

    I agree that the way a group of people choose to organize themselves should have no bearing on their ability to influence an election. I also agree that large corporations can have an unfair influence on an election, because they can draw money from outside the “election zone”. So how should these contradictory needs be met?

    Why not limit campaign contributions and ads to being funded ONLY by those who can vote for/against a particular candidate/referendum, regardless of how they’re organized? If you’re not in the same district as I am, why should you be allowed to influence the election of MY representative? We already do this at the national level, as foreign money is restricted in national elections. Why not just be consistent at the “lower” levels?

    If all the members of your local union shop/business cooperative/sewing circle are able to vote for/against a particular candidate, then you’re allowed to pool your money for/against that particular candidate. If your organization is spread out over multiple districts (say a county-wide union shop that has members in different county council districts), then you have to come up with a mechanism that ensures that money from a voter in a particular district is used ONLY for advocating for/against candidates/referendum from that district.

    This eliminates the influence of a large corporation over elections in districts in which the corporation has no presence, but still allows corporate/union/etc. participation in elections in which the employees/members/etc. are allowed to vote in.

    One final note. I see some of the preceding commenters seem to believe that “freedom of the press” means “freedom of news organizations”. It actually means “freedom to publish”. In the first amendment, the phrase “freedom of speech” is intended to protect our right to “verbalize” our thoughts, the phrase “or of the press” is intended to protect our right to publish our thoughts (200+ years ago the only way to publish was via the printing “press”). This was done because, as a previous commenter noted, the ability to disseminate an individual’s views verbally are rather limited, so being able to publish and distribute such views without government interference is very important. Today, we have many more ways to “publish” than the “press” (web pages, usenet, radio, TV, skywriting, etc.). Yet for some reason, we’ve got this idea that a “news organization” has some special protections under the constitution. The New York Times has no more right to print what it wants to than K-Mart does. Just because the NYT is in the business of printing what it calls “news”, does not, and should not, give it more or less protection to publish than K-mart, or, for that matter, me.

  53. #53 |  claude | 

    I dont trust many decisions that come from the RATS members of the court.

  54. #54 |  Highway | 

    Judas, if you’re so interested in ‘what already are’s’, then why don’t you seem to acknowledge that there already IS corporatism, that Citizen’s United doesn’t make any difference to those huge corporations, because they can buy their access *any time they want*, they don’t need an election. And if you silence TV ads and electioneering, then their guy will *stay* bought.

    Who is Julian Assange in trouble with? Big corporations? Hell no. He’s in trouble with the government itself. And why? At least partly because those big media corporations are in the pocket of the government (which is why they got special permission in the BCRA in the first place, because the Congress knew they wouldn’t be saying anything bad about them) and aren’t interested in things that actually show some truth about what goes on in government policy.

    Like it or not, things that effect corporations effect people. The GM bailout, whether I like it or not, was in the direct interests of thousands of people. Not just some big amorphous ‘GM’, but lots and lots of individual people. Going to war effects lots and lots of individual people. But if the mechanisms for being able to get an effective message out there about the interests that have a bearing on Joe and Alice and Eddie and a bunch of other people are more expensive than an individual can shoulder alone, why should they be prevented from using them? It’s still their personal message, it’s just a lot of people’s personal message, all given at the same time.

  55. #55 |  Marty | 

    campaign finance reform seems pointless to me- any laws or restrictions designed will be circumvented by the politicians and big spenders, anyway.
    my issue is with how powerful corporations (and govt) have become. the political process is all about self-interests and it’s not just corporations, as many have pointed out. I feel a BIG part of it is corporate self-interest, though. I would like a smaller, less intrusive govt, but I don’t see how that can happen with multi-national corporations controlling so much power. they control much of the media that people get ‘informed’ by, they control and market the products to sell to the govt- would drug testing kits have a chance if the govt wasn’t ordering them by the truckload? would tazers? airport scanners? we spend billions of dollars on this useless shit and then more laws are created to require more of this useless shit.
    where do you begin to roll this back?

  56. #56 |  Nick T. | 

    Just wanted to chime in… I got it right of course. The First Amendment is exactly NOT about “political reality.” It’s not about what was intended either. It’s about the idea that free speech is so critical that the founders left absolutely no room for regulation or restriction. No balancing test, no national interests principle, just “no law.”

    Any argument based on “corporate personhood” is legally ignorant and incoherent, and any argument based on the consequences of corporate influence on elections opens the door to speech restrictions that could similarly be said to benefit society or our democracy.

    Also, I agree with #28, the crowded theater argument is garbage in nearly all cases. The point of that example is not about the safety costs, it’s about the lack of “speech” or expression and the fraud it involves. Lying, threats, intimidation are not free speech which is to destructive to not be regulated, they are not free speech at all and thus are not protected. This is a very meaningful distinction when you start comparing shouting “fire” to, say, burning the Koran. Speech is never a balancing test.

  57. #57 |  Les | 

    #49, that sounds very much like you’re equating Politburos, juntas and dictatorships to corporations, unions, and political action committees. That would be silly of you.

  58. #58 |  musefree | 

    It is always annoying to hear the misleading claim that Citizen’s United = Corporate Personhood.

    Of course, corporates are not people. Everyone knows that. The question is, do the people behind the corporation have free speech rights? If they do, can they pool ther money together and spend it on political speech?

    The answers to these questions should determine what you think of Citizen’s United. Not a reflexive claim denying corporate personhood.

    Here’s what I think. I think to effectively speak for an important cause, it is necessary, nay, critical, that people be allowed to pool their resources. Think ACLU. Think EFF. Think Institute for Justice, Cato, NRA, PETA or your favourite advocacy group or trade union of whatever political stripe. They are all corporates. Their free speech rights come from OURS. WE pool together resources so that we can speak in a common voice. To deny the logic of Citizen’s United is therefore to either deny this right to a common voice, or to make an artificial distinction that gives this right to some groups but not to others.

    What distinctions could an opponent of Citizen’s United make?

    Here’s some:

    1) Allow collective speech, except during election time / for or against specific candidates.

    But this is absurd! Aren’t elections important? And even if you stop them from endorsing some candidates, won’t they be able to put forth their positions indirectly with similar effect?

    2) Allow collective speech by non profits but not by for profits.

    I am unconvinced by this distinction because the NY Times is a for profit, and I think it is inconsistent to make such a distinction that allows the press but not the non-press.

    In sum, I think the only consistent, libertartian position is to support Citizen’s United, in its full form.

  59. #59 |  pyo1 | 

    @24 – I didn’t realize my options on replying only to certain threads were limited by anyone!

  60. #60 |  Nick T | 

    #58, you’re exactly right. Interesting that up the thread a person opposing the CU decision cited the 1st Amendment’s protection for the right to assemble. Obviously that person would interpret that right as not involving the right to incoporate since such incoporation would be a forfeiture of other rights.

    I wish people would just say that they hatethe CU decision cuz they think it’s really abd for America, and believe in free speech up to those points where it is clearly very bad for America. I would respect that view, though disagree with it.

    People should also be aware that all 9 justices on the court agreed that corporations were protected by free speech, just disagreed on the limits of those protections. So “corporate personhood” (ignoring the absurdity of that argument altogether) has been decided 9-0 in favor of by the Supremes.

  61. #61 |  Marty | 

    ‘Of course, corporates are not people. Everyone knows that.’

    everyone except for the scotus and corporations, apparently…


    ‘In sum, I think the only consistent, libertartian position is to support Citizen’s United, in its full form.’

    they might be an option, but I’m not so sure about ‘the only consistent…’ statement. why are they so against wikileaks?

  62. #62 |  musefree | 

    Marty — You wished to support a claim, namely that “the SCOTUS and corporations (do not know) that ‘corporates are not people’ “, and pointed me to a link that informs me that according to a SCOTUS ruling , corporates are entitled to protection under the fourtenth amendment.

    I do not see how being entitled protection under a specific law (the fourteenth amendment) implies being a person.

    About wikileaks, I dont know what you wish to imply. I love wikileaks. I donated $300 to them the other day. Most libertarians I know love them too.

  63. #63 |  Nick T | 

    Yes and some people might point to the 4th amendment which clearly gives a right to “people” but has been long udnerstood to apply to corportations. The First Amendment contains no such limitation and simply controls government action.

    However, the view that the 4th Amendment also applies to corporations is perfectly libertarian and involves interpretting the Document as either first and foremost a limit on government, or not so technical as to not view corporations as groups of “people” or to let the government regulate activity based on legal distinctions. Nearly all people who hate CU would not be cool with the 4th Amendment not applying to corporations and thus have no intelligible legal/Constitutional argument.

    Most epopel who hate CU and hate “corporate personhood” also would hate to see movies and music censored or regulated even though those are made by corporations. And if you asked them, outside of a CU discussion about a scenario where the government censors movies they would howl “First Amendment!” Being anti-CU is a highly selective application of intellectual log-rolling.

    I love Wikileaks, FTR

  64. #64 |  Z | 

    #25 is right- Corporations have all sorts of privileges that people don’t. Don’t want to pay taxes? Incorporate in Delaware? Want to avoid legal liability? Just force every purchaser to sign a release form. Want to buy a West Virginia Supreme Court justice? No problemo just finance his campaign.

    Can I simply declare that I am, for tax purposes, an Alaskan or a New Hampshire resident even if I live in NYC? Can I force everyone I have any interaction with to sign a liability waiver? Can I contribute millions to political campaigns and committees to purchase favorable legislation like the “Z is exempt from all responsibilities act”? No? Then piss off, a corporation is not a person.

    Oh and #26, stop being a glib wiseass.

  65. #65 |  Z | 

    #26- that post deserves a fuller response although I stand by you being a glib wiseass:

    “Z — I know, lets socialize the media so that the government can give a voice to everyone! There is -no- way they would use it to suppress speech even more then it is now. Oh, wait… never mind.”

    Nobody said anything about socializing the media. The case is about whether I can create a shell corporation and hide behind it to spend millions on candidates who would then do my bidding and whether that corporation, free of any actual human responsibilities and liabilities can be considered a person with a right to spend and spend and spend: and whether money is speech.

    It’s that last part that, were Citizens United applied honestly (which it won’t be) could be a boon for individuals. I can claim that my low salary is tantamount to depriving me of a right to free speech: and that my rights wont be protected until I’m paid at least 100,000 per year. Would you represent me? Pro bono of course.