Saturday, February 05, 2011

A little information can cause a lot of damage

On January 21, 2011, I received an email from MoveOn.Org urging I contact my senators and congressman to express outrage over the US Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, and to support an amendment to the constitution withholding free speech protections from corporations.

I was going to leave the issue alone until I read a letter-to-the-editor in the Ferndale 115.  It is too late to discourage that letter from being written, but I hope this article at least encourages people to pause before following orders sent them by email, Nigerian princes, or voices in their head.

Everyone that watched President Obama's 2010's State of the Union Address may remember the president exercising his free speech displeasure with the supreme court when he said, 
With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests –- including foreign corporations (like this?) –- to spend without limit in our elections.
He was referring to a similar issue (and thorn) that complains about in their email.

MoveOn actually doesn't believe all corporations should be prohibited from free speech.  MoveOn.Org is itself a corporation--though a not-for-profit 501c3, and presumably wants to preserve free speech for itself.  What they must mean, then, is for-profit corporations should be prohibited from free speech, but that would include companies building green-products like wind turbines and solar panels, growing and selling organic foods, and other corporations that are in good standing with MoveOn.

So what we're left with is they must only want to prohibit free speech from corporations whose interests aren't aligned with MoveOn's and concordingly ACORN, Rainbow Push Coalition, and Common Cause--all non-profit corporations that exploit free speech for their own purposes (OK--not so much ACORN since 11/2010's bankruptcy filing).

The hypocrisy of these non-profit corporations claiming free speech should be prohibited to corporations is the subject of James Tarranto's Wall Street Journal article, Everybody Does It?  Really?

"So here we have a corporation (Common Cause) that advertises itself as a "grassroots organization" while exercising its First Amendment rights to advance the position that corporations do not have First Amendment rights, only individuals do. Some individuals, participating in the corporation's "grassroots" rally, exercise their First Amendment rights in ways that harm the corporation's image. The corporation responds by exercising its First Amendment rights to denounce those individuals for having exercised their First Amendment rights. And it does so in its capacity as a faceless corporation, by issuing a statement for which no individual--not even CEO Bob Edgar--takes responsibility."
Unfortunately, too many people don't appreciate the definitions of either "corporation" or "free speech."

Since 1975's Bigelow v. Virginia ruling, free speech includes commercial speech.    According to seven justices, commercial speech is as precious and valuable to protecting liberty as political speech.  Whether you agree with that decision or not, you can thank that court (sans justices Rehnquist and White) not for raising our appreciation of the contributions advertising has brought to humanity, but for lowering the value of Dr. Martin Luther King's "Now is the time!" to Cialis'® "When the time's right."

So does MoveOn, like Obama, want to reverse 41 years of precedent protecting corporate commercial speech, or just corporate political speech--like MoveOn's?

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