As most of you already know the Supreme Court today voted 5-4 to strike down some of the restrictions on contributions by corporations and labor unions. Since there are already a number of discussions on the net regarding the specifics of the ruling I’m not going to go into depth on that area.
Personally though I’ve always been a little reluctant to assign First Amendment rights to legal entities, be they a business or a labor union. It just seems to me that people have the rights not some legal entity. However I do understand and respect the counter argument that the donations reflect the actions of those who make up the entity.
What has been interesting to me today is some of the reaction to the ruling, both in terms of the actual impact and also in terms of the differing partisan viewpoints.
To begin with, this is not that big of a ruling. The decision was relatively narrow and on the main point of one of the litigants (Citizens United) the court ruled *against* them, saying that restrictions on broadcast ads are proper. So it’s not like they threw out the whole law.
In addition, if we look at it from a practical viewpoint, how much has the law been doing anyway ? Do we really think that the law prior to the ruling really stopped the AFL-CIO from doing ads and making contributions on behalf of candidates they liked ? Did it really do much to keep General Mills from doing the same thing on issues they cared about ?
Of course not. These kinds of laws have always been a wink and a nod kind of thing which is why I’ve often thought a better route is to simply require that the ads disclose the actual contributors and not some generic ‘Citizens for this or that’ lobby. People are smart enough to know what various interest groups stand for.
In surfing the net for blogger reaction I’ve been particularly struck by the reaction from the left on this ruling. They are in a panic over the ‘evil corporations’ (or in the case of the more hard line sites the ‘reactionary capitalists’) having more influence over politics.
Obviously this ruling will allow the corporate donors to make contributions more openly (though as I said above I’m not sure they ever really stopped). But what about the labor unions ? They are just as powerful and have tons of money to throw at the campaigns too. Yet somehow for those on the left a huge labor union buying off candidates is somehow ok.
The same seems to be true when billionaires like George Soros pour money into activist groups. Somehow that money being spent is acceptable but a similar move by someone on the right is not. I am sure there are people who look at it from the other side who think the reverse but on this particular issue it seems to come more from the left (IE there were not efforts exempt business from the campaign laws while there were ones to exempt labor unions).
Of course I do understand that for some there really is the image that all businessman are evil and all labor unions are pure of heart. But for most of us we look at both groups as having too much influence over government. Certainly as a resident of California I’ve seen the damage labor union ownership of the state legislature has done.
Each of us has their own political viewpoint and in that each of us thinks we are right (if we didn’t then we wouldn’t have those views). So it is understandable that if a group I agree with is making donations then I’m less upset than when a group I disagree with does.
But if you look at it in a non partisan manner, or as non partisan a manner as we humans can manage, the fact is there are interest groups on all sides and they will always have influence over politics, no matter what the law says.