Corporate America can basically decide the outcome of an election because of the resources it can pour into campaigns. Basically, billionaires run our country and destroy our democratic process—and a 2010 Supreme Court ruling on a case called Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission is at fault.
Or so the argument goes.
What critics of the Court’s decision often fail to recognize is that had the ruling gone the other way, the consequences could have been far worse.
The Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission ruling upheld the right of people or associations to publicly promote or oppose a political candidate.
The plaintiff, Citizens United, was challenging an existing law which prevented it from promoting a documentary criticizing a candidate during the 2008 election cycle. The Court decided in favor of Citizens United, noting that such a prohibition violated First Amendment protections of freedom of speech.
If the Court hadn’t ruled this way, the government basically could have censored any political advocacy (or perceived political advocacy) coming from any company.
Selling Our Souls to Corporate America for the Sake of Free Speech?
To address the concerns of the ruling’s critics, it’s important to note what the Citizens United ruling did not do: It did not change the limit on how much an individual or group can contribute directly to a candidate. Current law allows a maximum contribution of $2,700 to be donated per person per candidate.
And let’s not forget that pretty much all speech (at least everything beyond shouting on a street corner) requires money.
- Most newspapers are owned by wealthy corporations
- Most successful Internet blogs take a lot of human resources
- Pamphlets and newsletters cost money to print.
The First Amendment says that “no law” shall restrict freedom of speech; surely there is not a carve-out for speech that costs a certain dollar amount.
One final point to keep in mind: No matter how much money you have, you can’t force people to listen to your viewpoint. Not even if you’re a billionaire.
In the end, it’s difficult to deny that the Supreme Court made the right call on this one.
Want to learn more? In the video below, Professor Brad Smith expounds even further on the controversy surrounding the Citizens United case, the consequences of which go way beyond campaign finance reform