This Amendment is, I believe, what attracts people to our country. It is stated that you may come to America and practice whatever religion you believe in. You may come here and voice your opinions publicly without fear of the government. It is our right, to choose what we believe in. This is a country for the people written by the people.
Public discussion about the character and fitness for office of presidential candidates is at the core of the First Amendment's command that "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the Freedom of Speech." Yet Congress, in its zeal to impose onerous campaign-finance restrictions, has made political speech a felony for one class of speakers. Corporations and unions can face up to five years in prison for broadcasting candidate-related advocacy during federal elections.
Is outlawing political speech based on the identity of the speaker compatible with the First Amendment? Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear arguments to determine the answer to this question.
The case—Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission—involves a 90-minute documentary produced by Citizens United, a small nonprofit advocacy corporation. "Hillary: The Movie" examines the record, policies and character of the former New York senator, now Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton. The documentary was set to be broadcast during Mrs. Clinton's presidential primary campaign. But the broadcast was banned when the Federal Election Commission declared that the broadcast would violate the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.
The government defends this restriction by saying that corporations and unions are uniquely capable of amassing great wealth and must therefore be prevented from overwhelming the voices of others during an election. Relying on a 1990 Supreme Court decision (Austin v. Michigan State Chamber of Commerce), the government characterizes this threat as a "type of corruption" on the peculiar theory that such expenditures do not "reflect actual public support for the political ideas espoused by corporations." Therefore, the government reasons, corporate expenditures "distort" the political process and must be banned.
In crafting McCain-Feingold, Congress acted without proof that such expenditures have any distorting effect on elections. And it responded to a nonproblem with a sledgehammer rather than a scalpel. The current ban on candidate-related speech is not limited to big corporations or powerful unions. It prohibits election advocacy by all unions and all corporations, regardless of size. It even criminalizes speech by nonprofit advocacy corporations such as Citizens United and the ACLU, which cannot conceivably distort or corrupt the political process.
The government claims the authority to suppress corporate and union speech not only in broadcast formats but also in books, pamphlets and yard signs. Put simply, the government's theory is that because wealthy corporations and unions might speak too much during elections, all of them must be silenced.
While the law prohibits even the smallest nonprofit groups from engaging in election advocacy, it exempts wealthy individuals, and it does not restrict the many advantages of incumbency for sitting members of Congress. A limitless loophole is also granted to the media. Thus the corporations that own NBC and ABC (GE and Disney, respectively), and corporations like The New York Times (or News Corp., owner of this newspaper), can express whatever views they want during campaigns.
Loopholes aside, the government's argument that speech may be outlawed because it does not reflect "public support for the ideas expressed" is absurd. It is the very antithesis of free speech.
Hard-charging campaign rhetoric is something that the First Amendment's authors had experienced firsthand. In making the choice between government-approved, polite discourse and boisterous debate, the Founders chose freedom. They did not say Congress could enact finely reticulated restrictions on speech. They said plainly that there could be "no law" abridging the freedom of speech.
The idea that corporate and union speech is somehow inherently corrupting is nonsense. Most corporations are small businesses, and they have every right to speak out when a candidate threatens the welfare of their employees or shareholders.
Time after time the Supreme Court has recognized that corporations enjoy full First Amendment protections. One of the most revered First Amendment precedents is New York Times v. Sullivan (1964), which afforded publishers important constitutional safeguards in libel cases. Any decision that determines that corporations have less protection than individuals under the First Amendment would threaten the very institutions we depend upon to keep us informed. This may be why Citizens United is supported by such diverse allies as the ACLU, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO, the National Rifle Association and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
Persons of modest means often band together to speak through ideological corporations. That speech may not be silenced because of speculation that a few large entities might speak too loudly, or because some corporations may earn large profits. The First Amendment does not permit the government to handicap speakers based on their wealth, or ration speech in order somehow to equalize participation in public debate.
Tomorrow's case is not about Citizens United. It is about the rights of all persons—individuals, associations, corporations and unions—to speak freely. And it is about our right to hear those voices and to judge for ourselves who has the soundest message.
This article is very interesting to me because the government is saying that it is okay for the press, news stations ect. to express their opinions on elections and politics but not for unions or other major corporations. They must be forgetting that FOX, NBC, CNN ect. are corporations themselves.
Check this link out to hear a completely different view point. After watching this I might have a different opinion! Politicians might start driving around with stickers of the corporations they endorse on the sides of their cars. They might start wearing Pepsi hats, Marlboro lapel pins and Mcdonalds will be in control of the health care system!!