Lessig on giving corporations unlimited right to bribe politicians

MrJM sez, "The Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United v. FEC allows corporations and unions to pour unprecedented amounts of money into elections. Now more than ever, when Congress acts, we won't be able to know whether it was because of reason or judgment... or only because of the need for campaign money. The system is broken, and we need to act."

Lessig on the Supreme Court's Citizens United v. FEC Decision (Thanks, MrJM!)


  1. Why not just not vote for people who you consider to be corporate thralls? The paternalism behind this line of thinking is insane — it ASSUMES that no politician can resist the urge to sell influence to anyone. We can vote for the OTHER GUY if this happens, so who cares?

  2. He really got me with that calligraphic “Trust.” I feel so much better now, it’s as if Corporate Personhood had never existed.

  3. We don’t “need to act” to deprive people of their constitutional right to free speech. Congress already acted to do this, and fortunately SCOTUS was able to undo it, by an unfortunately slim majority. Corporations are voluntary assemblies of people acting in their own interest, so restricting their speech is no more correct than restricting individual speech.

    1. Corporations are arbitrary legal entities designed to maximize profits and minimize losses and responsibilities. Granting such an assemblage the status of personhood and the rights thereto is wrong on so many levels, not least the Constitutional. But try arguing that before that corporatist droid John Roberts and his court.

      A bad day for America, one of the worst ever.

    2. When was the last time a corporation had each of it’s employees & shareholders vote on giving money to a PAC or to a candidate? Or, would it just happen to be that a few members of a board or corporate officers are making those decisions for everyone else? Hardly the actions of anything resembling a voluntary assembly of people acting in their own interest.

    3. Another problem with the idea of corporations as an assembly of people is that those people may not even be US citizens, as Stevens points out. Corporations are not American in any sense of the word.
      Why should the be allowed to fund local and national candidates?

    4. The unusual move isn’t so much treating corporations as people, which has been done for a while, but treating money as speech.

  4. I don’t understand what solution he’s proposing that would fix this issue.

    What’s the difference between 50 people pooling some money so they can send 1 person to beg for their favorite cause and a rich person or corporation doing the same thing. How will some new law distinguish between one or the other?

    1. It’s a 50:1 ratio in the political influence of that person.

      By placing a limit on the amount of money that a person can contribute, and by not allowing corporations to add to that (since they are just groups of the aforementioned people), it assures that no person can have any greater monetary influence over the government than any other person. People like Donald Trump or corporations like Halliburton that have political aims and money to spare, couldn’t use their money to influence a politician’s decision any more than the average person could.

      Why is this important? Because democracy is based on the idea of equal representation. Our government’s mandate is supposed to be based on what the majority of people want, not what the richest or loudest minority wants. Allowing rich individuals or corporations to have a much larger influence than any average individual means that decisions will favor the rich and the corporations over the individual. Is what Google wants more important than what the state of California wants?

      To make matters worse, though a corporation is a group of people, it’s not run by the individuals in that group. Corporations are driven by a board of directors, whose mandate is to do the best for their shareholders, and whose shareholders have disproportionate say in the company’s direction. The organization of a corporation doesn’t reflect democracy at all. So, for a corporation to have significant political influence means that the primary shareholders (those with a lot of money) get a disproportionate amount of influence over government.

      That’s not to say that a company can’t have policies and even political stances — that’s fine. What’s not fine is when they can use their abundance of capital to influence political decisions; when political decisions are based on money, not on merits. Laws should be adopted and investments should be made because they are good for the people and the country, not because they make any politician or their campaign more profitable.

  5. A personal rule of thumb I have is that banning something ‘unpleasant’ (hate speech or corporate speech) will generally make it worse. Neonazis get to play the silenced minority card with new recruits, while hiding from public scrutiny and ridicule, and corporations will simply find other methods of achieving their ends.

    I would love to hear what corporations have to say. Keep ’em honest. I want to know if megacorp X is going to be destroyed by legislation Y. What I don’t want is for these conversations to be happening behind closed doors.

    I’m less certain about preventing corporations from donating; it’s probably a good idea (currently p>=65%) but I’d need to consider it more before getting behind it.

  6. how long until these “persons” can just run for office themselves? it wouldn’t be unprecedented. the fascists in Italy replaced their parliament with an “Assembly of Corporations”

    1. While having a similar name, the corporatism that the Italian Fascists introduced is not the same as rule being ruled by a commercial entity.

      “… [it]is not connected with the contemporary inaccurate and pejorative use of corporatism to describe politics that is dominated by business corporations.”

  7. I agree that lots of money tends to help win a race, and that any self loving, soul sucking politician will jerk off anything with a wallet to get said money. I think this is all more of a commentary on how dumb and gullible people are. If you need to set up rules to make the spending ratios ‘fair’, it is acknowledgement that you just need to scream loudly enough and the dumb masses will obediently follow.

    Eh, I think it says more about the value of democracy and the voters than it does about the people trying to influence it.

    1. “Eh, I think it says more about the value of democracy and the voters than it does about the people trying to influence it.”

      Well put.

      I’ve never understood our society’s obsession with Democracy as the Greatest Good as opposed to Republic/Constitutional Monarchy. A truly democratic Afghanistan woud have women wearing veils and denied higher education (probably) – hell, most decisions over here that The Majority make are pretty bloody awful. The Canadian and American systems were designed to put the brakes on Democracy, and yet we’re all taught the opposite during our formative years.

  8. The linked web site doesn’t offer a very effective route to change the status quo. “I won’t give you money unless you refuse giant chunks of corporate money” isn’t going to gain the attention of career corporate lackeys ensconced in congress.

    Can anyone offer up a better way to go forward? Am I really going to be stuck with voting for *anyone* other than the incumbent as my only effective way of trying to enact some meaningful change? Because that other party doesn’t seem to like my reproductive organs a whole lot unless they can control what those organs are doing.

  9. I am totally going to gay marry a corporation now.

    Corporate personhood is a fcuked up metaphor. And for the argument of groups of people – when Republicans are in power they always try to make it illegal for unions to give money unless every member votes. They would never suggest this for employees or shareholders of a corporation.

  10. Sitting in an airport and talking to a computer while wearing an earpiece! That video could’ve ended completely different… and still make it to BB.

  11. The constitution says that “Congress shall make no law …abridging the freedom of speech.” I fail to see how someone can read that very simple and straightforward statement and then believe that it gives Congress permission to dictate the fashion in which a voluntary association of persons comes to a decision on what speech it will make. So no, it is immaterial how a corporation makes its decisions. Its freedom of speech, which is the freedom of speech of the people who own and direct it, may not be abridged.

    And the “limited liability” of a corporation means only that the shareholders of the corporation are not responsible for its debts, and therefore stand to lose no more than the value of their shares should the corporation default on what it owes. Without limited liability investment would come to a standstill because no investor would take the chance of having creditors come after him for the debts of the corporation – any investment could lead to unlimited liability, wiping the investor out completely.

  12. The reason that unions are different is because there are laws which make “union shops” legal – everyone who works at a certain business is compelled to join the union and pay its dues. When the union then uses those dues for speech, the result is that members have been forced to pay for speech with which they may disagree. That is forbidden by the first amendment – being forced to pay for speech with which one disagrees abridges freedom of speech. On the other hand no one is compelled to be an investor in a corporation and it is a simple matter to divest from such a corporation without significant hardship, unlike leaving a job due to disagreement with a union.

  13. This is a country run by corporations, not the people. The corporations have bought elections for years, this is nothing new. Now they don’t have to hide it.

    This past year with the difficulty in getting healthcare passed, it was blatantly obvious that the insurance companies had thrown money at the politicians. This resulted in new healthcare that was so far removed from what people wanted in the first place.

    The majority of people in this country are too ignorant and too lazy to ever move for a change that Lessig describes. It’s a shame.

  14. I do not work for the Heritage Foundation. I am a First Amendment absolutist (and of the other amendments too). The ACLU, hardly a fellow traveler of the Heritage Foundation, filed an amicus brief in favor of Citizens United, because they too believe in freedom of speech.

    1. I am a First Amendment absolutist

      Fundamentalist adherence to an antiquated document. What could possibly go wrong?

      1. “I am a First Amendment absolutist

        Fundamentalist adherence to an antiquated document. What could possibly go wrong?”

        With all due respect, the weight of evidence contradicts your stance.

        Granted most people are crazy, but despite this freedom of speech and information, ever since the Gutenberg, have led to more accurate knowledge, not less. Free speech has on the whole benefited the targets of hate crime, not hurt them, despite neonazis and holocaust deniers; it’s increased belief in evolution, science, and atheism; it’s caused the political classes to become less corrupt and more accountable (though more of this is needed).

        If corporations have free speech we’ll know what their agenda is and have the opportunity to research it – and any corporation that lies or misleads about something would run the risk of mass boycotts; just look to the CEO of Whole Foods and what happened when he wrote the OP/ED for NYT.

        There are bad sides to this, of course (idiots believing the propaganda) but they’re outweighed by the benefits. Nine times out of ten free public discourse will lead to the truth, not to propagandic lies – a contention supported by history.

        1. Nine times out of ten free public discourse will lead to the truth, not to propagandic lies – a contention supported by history.

          Please provide credible citations for your claim.

          1. “Citation Needed”

            Fair enough, I’ll see what I can do; no promises though.

            For the record, I’m specifically defending speech – not campaign bribery. I’d have to read some pretty convincing arguments before I equated money to opinions.

          2. I think that free speech is a generally positive thing in itself. I just find that claims that it always (or almost always) leads to greater liberty or happiness are faith-based rather than well-documented.

          3. And if you would like to show us some well-documented evidence in favor of censorship preserving liberty, we’re all ears.

          4. “Citation Needed”

            1. Science: on the surface, freedom of speech here is not a contentious issue; scientists debate amongst themselves all the time, and even though some journals spout nonsense (EG the Sokal Hoax Citation A) no one’s advocating censorship when ridicule will suffice. But that’s today. Historically speaking there was one important organization which argued a different metaphysical construct…

            2. Religion; freedom of conscience isn’t just a religious value, it’s a fundamental aspect of science as well: scientists need to be able to argue for/against Many World QM theory, for/against genetic and racial profiling (something that clearly has benefits in medicine, though some people have argued for used it for ugly purposes – but once again, we need freedom of speech to prove to racists that their science is flawed. Dawkins wrote a courageous chapter on this topic in The Ancestors Tale). But when religious tolerance spills over into mandated religious respect things start to become poisonous.

            Freedom of conscience is not freedom against hurt feelings; I make statements every day that could wind me up in a secret court like this prominent Canadian (Citation B) when his magazine hosted a thoroughly non-racist account of the Mohammed cartoons. Explaining to my girlfriend’s 4 year old daughter that “Silly people believe in Angels – that’s pretty crazy!” qualifies as hate speech under the current laws!

            Meanwhile French newspapers have been specifically avoiding mentioning the races involved when gangs of Parisian Muslims assault Jews – because mentioning this would be racist hate-speech, and anti-religion – so this pattern of hate crime goes completely unnoticed (Citation C).

            3. Political Satire: John Stewart works for a corporation. So does Rush Limbaugh. Is there any way to silence the latter, without silencing the former? I’m currently working on a book which covers topics such as the rampant corruption of Canadian Police and the ghettoization of Native Reserves. I fully expect to be called racist, criminal scum for this and have organizations try and ban the book (assuming it’s remotely successful).

            Furthermore, private grassroots political organizations are often finding themselves silenced by the current complexity of laws; megacorps and lobbyists, of course, find ways around this(Citation D).

            4. Philisophical arguments: I’m mainly cribbing from the wikipedia page (it was the best I could do on short notice – Citation E).

            “Milton also argued that if the facts are laid bare, truth will defeat falsehood in open competition, but this cannot be left for a single individual to determine… no one is wise enough to act as a censor for all individuals.”

            “Noam Chomsky states that: “If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don’t like. Stalin and Hitler… were dictators in favor of freedom of speech for views they liked only. If you’re in favor of freedom of speech, that means you’re in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise.””

            Those that benefit most from speech restrictions are those in power; no ban is actually going to stop the corporations from having their say, it just slightly hinder them while silencing everybody else. This is why corporations are huge advocates for ‘safety’ or ‘green’ legislation – it puts their competitors out of business.

            The main challenge in defending free speech, is that I don’t know what angle I’m supposed to be defending it from. If you were to propose a certain Thought Crime legislation, I’d be able to point out the specific flaws in it – and I can list tons of legislation where censorship has gone wrong – but it’s like the god of the gaps problem. There are nearly infinite ways to censor speech, and only one way of keeping it free.

            The bans on shouting “Fire” in a crowded theatre, and libel laws make sense – but I can’t think of much beyond these which would prove useful.

            A: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sokal_affair
            B: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AzVJTHIvqw8&feature=PlayList&p=D642610D68EF6CFB&index=0
            C: While Europe Slept by Bruce Bawer
            D: http://reason.com/blog/2009/09/09/my-naive-first-amendment-free
            E: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_Speech#Freedom_of_speech_and_truth

            Also related: Keith John Sampson, a student-employee at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) who was found guilty of racial harassment for merely reading the book Notre Dame vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan during his work breaks.

  15. Any libertarian who is actually interested in human liberty should be alarmed and disgusted by this sell out.

    Corporations are about to become a new unaccountable and unopposable aristocracy. If you think they’ll give a god damn about human freedom and the general welfare of this nation’s citizens, you’re suckers. Dupes. Useful idiots.

  16. Hymie: When you talk about corporations being restricted in their right to free speech, are you talking specifically about funding campaigns? I don’t mean that as a kneejerk reaction – I just don’t think the SCOTUS should consider signing one’s name on a check or wire transfer as speech. In fact, in this blurb Lessig specifically mentions corporations having the right to promote candidates by their own means, just not by handing them money directly.

    I agree that wealthy entities, whether individuals, corporations, or what-have-you will always be able to leverage their resources to influence policy. The issue here is that large campaign contributions are nothing short of bribes.

  17. I am a First Amendment absolutist (and of the other amendments too).

    So does that mean the second Amendment guarantees private citizens the right to own nuclear weapons?

  18. Corporations are groups made up of individuals. Those individuals already have a right to speak when they vote. By giving corporations rights similar to individuals you are amplifying the rights of the individuals who already exercise their freedom of speech. Thus abridging the privileges afforded citizens by the 14th amendment of the constitution. Furthermore, you are also giving rights to individuals that don’t reside in the United States because many corporations are global.

  19. Corporations are not allowed in the voting booth because they are not people. Only individual citizens should be ablemto contribute any money at all.

    What seems amazing to me is that so many Republicans seem surprised at this decision. This is a Conservative court with activist judges. Republican leadership has and always will choose what helps wealth while fooling regular people into thinking that somehow it’s all about gays guns and God.

    The GOP can’t get what they want in Congress so they’ve stopped anyone from fixing the mess they themselves made. (Why Harry Reid does not force them to read the phone book for weeks on end is beyond me.) And you can bet this is not the last of the ideologically partisan decisions we’ll see from this court.

    The GOP is still running the show

    We’re fargan doomed.

  20. Citizens United only overturns laws against independent expenditures. It is still permitted to have laws against direct funding of campaigns and candidates because of government’s compelling interest in preventing corruption.

    Austin, the decision which allowed bans against independent expenditures, was only decided in 1990. I doubt that we’ll get any more of an unaccountable and unstoppable aristocracy now than we had before then.

  21. Two of those “activist judges”, Kennedy and Scalia, were dissenters on Austin, so it’s not terribly surprising that they voted to overturn it. Upholding the First Amendment is certainly conservative, but it’s conservative in a good way, not a Republican way. Go ahead and read the decision – it’s clear enough to be understandable to non-lawyers and it lays out in great detail why allowing Austin to stand is a bad idea.

  22. “Citizens United only overturns laws against independent expenditures.”

    Right. So when a corporation wants to support candidate X they can’t give X’s campaign money.

    But they can fund a shell called Concerned Patriotic Citizens for Freedom and Life and run attack ads against candidate Y.

    Over and over and over.

    They can smear, and lie, and distort, and scare . . . and they’ll get away with it, because it’s “free speech,” and even if you can get a libel suit going by the time you get a day in court candidate will be in office and doing his funder’s bidding.

    Suckers. Dupes. Useful idiots.

  23. Note that Citizens United was not about donating money. It was about a corporation that produced a political film and then was not permitted to air it on television because of laws against indirect campaigning. But the reason that “money is speech” is that many people choose to support their views by donating money to like-minded organizations which act on their behalf.

  24. Perhaps this is a good thing. Perhaps as corporations are provided more and more personhood we will get to a point where we can hold them accountable as we would human beings. Purposely fail to recall a car because the wrongful death lawsuits would be cheaper? Criminal murder charges for the entire board of directors and PMITA prison sentences for them all. Damaging citizens for their profits, repeatedly? Lock the CEOs away in asylums for the criminally insane for their psychopathic behaviors.

    Might work out.

    1. Yeah, I’m sure the corporations that have a lock-grip on the political process will leap at the chance to make themselves more accountable.

      It’s their game from now on. You should be lucky they don’t get the right to erase your memory if you accidentally hear a copyrighted song being played on someone else’s boom box.

  25. “Smearing, lying, distorting, and scaring” are in the eyes of the beholder. Perhaps in StefanJonesLand it is permitted for the government to decide what speech is acceptable and what is not. In the United States, the government may not abridge freedom of speech, nor decide which speech is correct and which is not.

    1. In the United States, the government may not abridge freedom of speech, nor decide which speech is correct and which is not.

      Um, no, that’s quite wrong. Incitement, for one. Yelling “theater” at a crowded fire, that’s another. Libel’s a third. Etc. And your terminology is wrong: the law doesn’t decide correctness, it decides legality. If inciting a riot, threatening murder, etc. are forbidden under the law–and they are–then it stands to reason that other forms of speech are too. This is rather simple.

      Given the massive abuse of the doctrine of corporate personhood, from its origin as an obiter dicta possibly misrepresented by a court reporter to today’s wholesale enfranchisement of corporations over people, it’s the contention of many that allowing a huge influx of corporate money into the political process is unconstitutional and illegal: a corporate-sponsored incitement to riot, if you will. It also, speaking plainly, is unfair: the amount of capital and resources available to many corporations dwarfs that available to other parties as to render notions of fairness, participation, speech meaningless. One can’t reasonably be heard over the Mighty Wurlitzer.

      I’d also love to know what was going through John Roberts’s head during his confirmation hearings when he was asked about stare decisis, which precedent (one might say law of the land) he quite overturned today. A lovelier case of a stealth activist judge there never was.

      Pragmatically, too, you’ve just got to wonder what the deleterious effects of billions of corporate dollars would be in a given race. Game out what Exxon Mobil would do in any race in which environmental issues or clean energy is a factor. Etc., etc. The idea that a government for and of the people can’t reasonably, lawfully, and Constitutionally curtail such influence is madness.

  26. It’s always entertaining to hear people who want more and more government micromanagement of the economy turn around and profess astonishment when the companies whose livelihood (and perhaps even survival) is held hostage to politicians…..try to spend money to influence political decision making.

    The way you get corporate money out of politics is to ensure that politicians get out of the economy.

  27. I am sure this makes the corporations happy since now they don’t have to be sneaky about things.

    In the future, historians will say ‘and this is when the Great Experiment died’

  28. The politician still has a right to refuse donations from any entity. Allowing no cap could possibly give them greater ability to choose interests they actually have a stake in maintaining. Things like green corporations and companies with good human rights records could float an entire campaign as opposed to having to politicians filling their coffers with money from multiple less savory sources and feeling like they owe them anything. Of course I have a suspicion I’m being highly overoptimistic.

  29. It’s always entertaining to hear people who want more and more liberty turn around and profess delight when powerful and largely unaccountable entities which were recognized by the founding fathers as dangerous to democracy are given more power and less accountability.

    Suckers. Dupes. Useful idiots.

    1. Notary Sojac’s point stands from a logical perspective though; if an individual or group of individuals (corporation) is compelled in any way by a force (in this case government), it only follows that they will spend resources (either in the form of effort or capital) to influence that compelling force.

    2. I’m inclined to agree with you (and the founding fathers) that corporations pose a threat to the Republic. But denying their members fundamental rights is not the solution. That way lies totalitarianism. If corporations are a problem let’s figure out how, and why, and correct those issues.

      The solution to a monopoly isn’t to have bureaucrats monitor it; we tear it down with antitrust laws.

      Followup to Antinous:

      My essay-length comment got moderated, so I’ll just provide some quick ones: Gutenberg press, and Martin Luther. Democratization of knowledge benefits truth and Classical Liberal values. As Sal said, when has censorship ever benefitted liberity?

      1. My essay-length comment got moderated

        The system doesn’t like a lot of links in one comment. I just fished it out of the hole.

  30. “which were recognized by the founding fathers as dangerous to democracy”

    Those kooky founders. If only they had said something, or maybe codified it in a document, or maybe as an amendment to that document, we wouldn’t be in this mess.

  31. Corporations are not individuals, therefore they are not entitled to inherent individual rights. If anything, Corporations do have limited rights, but nothing guaranteed by and through the Constitution. Let’s not kid ourselves. This ruling isn’t about free speech.

  32. Watching this health care reform debacle, I’ve been asking myself how many private citizens’ votes it takes, to counteract say, a thousand corporate dollars. Voters are limited in how many times we can vote, and how often. Corporate “speech” has no such limitations.

    And as private citizens, we can only vote for one candidate at a time, in the jurisdiction we live in. Corporations suffer no such limitation.

    If we’ve had a nakedly undemocratic political process before, this should remove all doubt: congress does not represent the voters.

    My federal government is hemorrhaging its legitimacy. It’s still an open question in my mind if my state wants to bleed out as well.

  33. Juxtapose Goldman-Sachs announcing profits of ~ $16 billion in 2009 (one company, one year), with Obama’s record-setting $500 million expenditure for the 2008 pres. election. Chump change.

    If campaign contributions = free speech, some of us are about to become a whole helluva lot more equal than others.

  34. We need tribunes to physically place themselves between the lobbyists and the optimates.

  35. Who can forget all that help Enron gave GW Bush’s campaign during their post-election fight in Florida?
    Who appointed Roberts?

  36. #31: “Corporations are not allowed in the voting booth because they are not people.”

    I figure that big business (regardless of incorporation) has little need for voting. Big business is so effective at narrowing the allowable range of debate most voters are choosing between that it hardly matters whom voters choose.

  37. Hath not a Corporation eyes? Hath not a Corporation hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? … If you prick a Corporation, does it not bleed?

  38. Why vote for politicians? Why have congress be like jury duty for a short enough period?


    It would however require the we really consider all people equal and require a lot more investment in education so that all are actually capable of said duty. But in turn, it maybe just what is required to maintain democracy, prevent it becoming another aristocracy?


    “Governments, if they endure, always tend increasingly toward aristocratic forms. No government in history has been known to evade this pattern. And as the aristocracy develops, government tends more and more to act exclusively in the interests of the ruling class — whether that class be hereditary royalty, oligarchs of financial empires, or entrenched bureaucracy.” — Frank Herbert

    1. Anon @65, you may be on to something: “Why vote for politicians?”

      It would be impossible to actually pull off, but what, constitutionally, would happen if an election was held and not one person voted? I’m curious.

      1. It would be impossible to actually pull off, but what, constitutionally, would happen if an election was held and not one person voted? I’m curious.

        My guess is that the courts would appoint somebody, like they did with whatsisname back in 2000.

        1. Likely, but the court appointing a candidate that absolutely no one voted for is pretty different from rigging the results of who voted for which candidate.

          Again, I tossed it out as a curiosity. The constitution is predicated on the notion that at least one person in each state will actually vote.

          1. It’s also predicated on the notion that at least one person will choose to run for each elected office, which is a much bigger commitment than merely voting.

  39. You don’t understand. Corporation (Soylent Green) *is* people. ;)

    Always fun to watch US commentators Fisking each other over issues like these, but it’s a global problem. Corporate ethics and Political ethics ought to be orthogonal. Political ethics ought to be a control and limitation on the excesses of Corporate ethics since “the benefit of the shareholders” is not necessarily good for society as a whole. This is one of the reasons most countries have laws to stop corporations bribing foreign governments to obtain contracts. But increasingly politicians are dependent on corporations for personal funding and the lobby system means that the wealthiest corporations have the most influence over political change. It’s reached a point where there’s no difference between Corporate and Political ethics and many among us see this as a bad thing for Society. So it’s distressing to see the US make moves to ratify this. We all know the Military-Corporate-Political is a seamless Pigopoly and runs everything but it’s quite another thing to see it formally ratified.

  40. Constitutional rights apply to the shareholders/union members, not the corporations/unions themselves.
    It does not matter that a collective is freely formed to support a political view on behalf of its members. The collective has no political rights – only its members do. Its members can support candidates/campaigns financially by contributing to them (within limits), speaking on their behalf, and then voting for them when the time comes. Individuals can organize and do these things together, but doing so does not grant them special powers.

    I too am an absolutist when it comes to the 1st amendment and most of the others, but only for individual citizens. I have absolutely no problem with placing severe limits on what collectives can and cannot do, and neither does the constitution.

    Why? Because collectives wield disproportionate power with disproportionate stupidity. Both the power (and stupidity) is much greater than the sum of its members, making collectives with political rights and power anti-democratic.

    How ironic that the same court (and the same votes) established that the second amendment is in fact an individual right, and not the right of a collective (militia) as specified in the original document.

  41. If money == speech, then prostitution must be constitutionally protected, since there’s no difference between paying for sex and talking someone into it.

    1. Drp drp, y dstryd ll r rgmnts wth yr prfnd nsght!

      G crwl bck nt yr hl; dlts r spkng hr, nd y dn’t qlfy fr r lt grp.

      hr ytb hs sm pnngs…

  42. why is it legal for a corporation to fund a politician’s campaign in the first place? that’s called bribery in most of the world.

    donations should be allowed only from individuals and have a reasonable cap.

    also a corporation is considered almost everywhere a “person” under the law for what it concerns its commercial activities, but granting it “personhood” identical to that of an individual is a unique american breakthrough.

  43. If you haven’t already seen it, watch The Corporation, by Joel Bakan, Mark Achbar, and Jennifer Abbott.

    It explore many, much of the same issues that this court decision lays bare.

    Mark Achbar, along with Peter Wintonick, gave us the excellent Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media. He was the big guy (he really is tall) with the tape recorder.

  44. Funding from individuals only. Perhaps individuals only in the district or state. ALL contributors and contributions identified.

    No PACS. No Corps. No groups.

    It is the business of the electorate. Anyone who rises to speak is identified.

  45. The only way to guarantee that an individual or a community’s money is spend on stuff that it wants, as opposed to some “influenced” project, is to let the individual or the community spend it voluntarily.
    The main problem is not the political decision process (which is fraught to become corrupt as Lessig points out), but the presumption that politicians should be allowed to tax citizens in the first place.

    It is interesting to see how in a small group setting (friends, neighborhood, company) it is intuitive that contribution and exchanges should necessarily and morally stay voluntary (ie. not stealing their property).
    Yet, when we consider larger groups the notion of “we” becomes more abstract and individuals loose this inhibition and start thinking that it is morally justifiable to tax other people’s resources.

    Now, we wonder what to do about politicians not spending that money on what we intend to.
    Talk about creating a problem, to then try and fixing it…

    1. The problem, as you describe it, is that situations change when we move from a small group to a large, abstract populous.

      On a small scale, externalities are clearly visible. Generally, you can identify who caused what and there is sufficient social pressure and repercussions to influence that person to take responsibility. Consider the case of roommates sharing a house. The general state of the house is an externality: one person leaving a plate on the table does little damage and they have little personal motivation to clean it up. However, if they all leave there stuff laying around all the time, eventually the house will be a mess and they will all be affected by it. Even if only one person leaves a mess, it will eventually affect them all.

      In this small-scale situation, the other roommates can work together to determine who is causing the problem. Then they can apply social pressures to cajole the troublemaker into cleaning up after himself. In a small group, there is no need for an overseer to take care of things.

      On a larger scale, this becomes entirely impractical. Consider billions of people dumping CO2 into the atmosphere. How would they all work together to determine who is responsible for fixing it? No single person wants to take responsibility, and all the others are hoping somebody else will step up so that they don’t have to. Because each person has very little contact with every other person, there are no social pressures one can apply to convince the other to fix the problem. In total, we all stand around waiting for somebody else to fix the problem: the tragedy of the commons.

      Historically, the large-scale solution is government. We all agree to appoint a body to handle it and we all chip in a fair share to make it happen. The governing body is given special privileges in order to influence each person to abide by their decisions. As long as the body is appointed by the people, and does what the people appointed it to do, this works.

      Unfortunately, there are a lot of assumptions in that model. One is that everybody can agree on who to appoint and what the body’s goal is. Getting everybody to agree is practically impossible. So instead, we use democracy: as long as the majority agrees, it applies to all. This is only an approximation of the ideal, but it makes sense how this could work: if we do what the majority wants, then the most people are made happy. Unfortunately, this could happen at the cost of the minority, but what alternatives do we have? Any other case involves the minority getting what they want at the cost of the majority, which seems unreasonable, since it benefits fewer people and costs more. Taken to its extreme, one person gets what they want at the expense of all others: totalitarianism.

      This would be fine if we had democracy, but what we have now is not democracy. In democracy, the majority rule, but our current system is ruled by those with the loudest voice. This may be corporations with a lot of money, or interested minorities who speak louder than the uninterested majority. Whatever the case, decisions are not based on what the majority wants, but on what a specific minority wants, making it essentially an oligopoly (whether an aristocracy, corporatocracy, or another body who gains control).

      To make matters worse, we’ve all along been assuming that the majority knows what’s best for it. This has been shown many times to be false. With the wildly varying levels and areas of education, it’s unlikely that the majority knows enough about any given subject to make a reasoned decision about it. For example, how many people know what long-term effects excessive CO2 production has on the planet and what a reasonable limit would be to that production? There are probably less than a thousand people in the world who could make a reasonable judgment about this.

      That’s why, instead of a direct democracy, modern-day democracies are representative democracies. A small group of experts is appointed to make decisions which will affect the entire populous. Now we have another problem: how do we know who is an expert? Many people claim they are experts, but even these experts don’t agree on what qualifications it takes to be an expert. We have “solved” this by appointing a group of self-proclaimed experts with the duty of determining who is and isn’t an expert. It’s turtles all the way down.

      If nothing else, take away this: the problem is very complicated. What seems simple in a small group quickly becomes impractically complicated on a larger scale. Truth, fairness, ethics and morality all come into play, and it’s impossible to make everybody happy with the result. But it’s necessary, because without coordinated action, we couldn’t accomplish anything that requires a large group of people. Just think of all the infrastructure that we have now. Those things that affect us all can only exist if we all find a way to work together, but getting everybody to work together is hard and man has spent thousands of years trying to find better ways to work together.

      1. I nominate this for Comment of the Month.

        Having nothing to contribute, I leave you with:

        “Now … Can any of you little nits tell me which great principle our political system is based upon?”

        “‘Money talks.'”

        “HMPH … Yes, well, the other great principle …”

        “‘MONEY TALKS.'”

      2. RevEng, the issue you describe may not be small group vs. large group. It seems rather like private property vs. public/common property.

        With private property, the owner can set and enforce rules for the tenants. The typical example is the mall landlord. A variant is the condo association.

        For pollution, if a factory next door pollutes the air in my garden and I can prove it, I should be able to sue the factory.

        For very diluted pollution (many people each polluting a little), I agree that the case becomes more difficult. You would need a class action lawsuit (many plaintiffs together, many defendants together), or some institution to deal with such large scale conflicts (like a government).
        But government today is clearly not limited to such large scale conflict resolutions, which are a legitimate problem.

        By virtue of the political incentives, it promises services and guarantees, which have nothing to do with negative externalities.
        With government not constrained to such problems, it is bound to happen that people and corporations try to take advantage. Then you get the US system: crony capitalism.

        You can tweak it to try and minimize corruption, as Lessig suggests, but that ignores creativity. People will find workarounds, buy votes, hack the system, etc. You only drive the corruption deeper, so that it becomes harder to detect :-(

        1. it seems a bit odd to argue that actively trying to minimize corruption will cause it to be driven deeper into the system… i believe we’ve already tried lots of doing nothing about corporations corrupting the government and it got us here in the first place.

          1. I’m not suggesting to do nothing about corporations corrupting government, but rather that you shrink government power so that there is nothing to corrupt.

            Also, to say that corporations are corrupting government is only half of the picture. The power of the government is corrupting corporations (and politicians too, btw) in the first place.

            If you keep a powerful government, there is a lot of incentives to still try and workaround the anti-corruption safeguards, using sneakier loopholes and darker corners to make shady deals.
            The current estimated ROI on lobbying spending provides huge incentives, which explains why lobbying efforts have multiplied.
            It is only natural, and in a sense you can’t blame them for trying. The solution is not to wish that people would be better people, but to fix the incentives by removing the un-necessary temptation.


    Pretty clear that that’s a bad thing.

  47. I dollars == votes, doesn’t that show that democracy doesn’t work?

    I know that sounds awful, but if we’re looking at crossing the threshold for ecological Armageddon anyway, maybe we should let this one go, just to let the performance art of US politics play out.

  48. Likely, but the court appointing a candidate that absolutely no one voted for is pretty different from rigging the results of who voted for which candidate.

    Again, I tossed it out as a curiosity. The constitution is predicated on the notion that at least one person in each state will actually vote.

  49. If corporations want to be “people”, fine…but that means they’ll have to start following the laws that people follow. We can start with filing manslaughter charges against Firestone for the defective tires they sold a few years back, as well as similar charges against Toyota for the defective accelerator pedals in many of their current vehicles. Oh, and don’t forget to file extortion charges against the RIAA for their “pay us money or we’ll sue” activites of the past few years.

    By the way, I don’t mean file the charges against the executives, I mean the corporation itself. If they want the legal protections afforded a person, then they get to also face the legal consequences of being a person.

  50. I liked the comment: “Corporations are voluntary assemblies of people acting in their own interest, so restricting their speech is no more correct than restricting individual speech.” Bull$hit. More and more, corporations have all the rights and privileges of citizens but bear few of the responsibilities or consequences, from swindles on Wall Street to market rigging in Houston to asbestos in Libby, Montana.

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