What's Wrong with Free Speech for Foreign Corporations?

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Free Speech Zone Image

A week ago, the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment trumped efforts by the political class to control free speech through campaign finance reform restrictions. This displeased prominent members of that class. In his State of the Union speech on Wednesday, President Barack Obama scaremongered:

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 –- to spend without limit in our elections.  (Applause.)  I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities.

On today's Morning Edition program on NPR tireless progressive opponent of free speech Fred Wertheimer asserted:

"They have opened a loophole here that did not exist prior to the decision," says Fred Wertheimer of the group Democracy 21.

He and other advocates of regulating political money say that foreign investors can get into American politics by buying into U.S. companies.

To NPR's credit, its report did note that other legal experts don't think that the ruling in the Citizens United has any effect on regulations prohibiting foreign involvement in U.S. elections. But let's set that aside for now.

What has astonished me is the jingoism embodied in such statements by the president and other so-called progressives. Is it not the case that millions of Americans work for "foreign" corporations such as Honda, Siemens, GlaxoSimthKline, etc.? That millions of Americans have invested tens of billions of their retirement savings in the stocks of such "foreign" companies? This being so and given the flood of rules, regulations, taxes, and subsidies emanating from Washington, DC, it seems to me that foreign corporations may have something of interest to say to voters about the policies being proposed by would-be "public servants" who are running for office.

But instead, the president and other progressives are attempting to fan the flames of both jingoism and class resentment simultaneously. Corporations = bad. Foreigners = bad. Put them together: Foreign corporations = evil incarnate.

This is what liberalism has come to. For shame! 

Finally, I want to associate myself with my colleague Jacob Sullum's astute observation in his recent column on the Citizens United case:

For the record, I think intelligent extraterrestrials residing in the United States would be covered by the First Amendment.

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  1. Some want that picture to read “Speech Free Zone”… But Tony will tell us that if the government says it’s OK, then a Speech Free zone would be perfectly consistent with human rights.

  2. I love how trans nationalist progressives go all Archie Bunker got to stop the foreigners when it suits them. Who the hell are these guys kidding?

  3. I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests

    Fuck Obama for deliberately equating “elections” with “campaigns”.

    1. I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests

      And while we’re at it, I don’t think people should take their unruly children to restaurants. It’s when you sneak in that simple phrase “be allowed” that I want to hit you with a rusty pipe.

  4. Bully tactics by Obama and his group. Chicago style politics at is worst. It’s OK for the Unions to dump vast somes of money but not corporations. The court make a just ruling. I bet Alito could take him.
    http://www.suckitupcrybaby.com

    1. Lucky for you, spamming is free speech also. Most of the time.

  5. The Constitution does not apply to people, whether US Citizens or anyone else. It applies to the government. It states explicitly what the government can and cannot do.

    1. I wonder how many times we need to repeat this before people finally accept it?

      1. Evidently, millions of times. Each.

      2. Some people have simply made up their minds to not accept it, because to accept it would mean abandoning their dreams of a government-created utopia.

  6. TDN: You are right. For the record the First Amendment reads:

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    What so hard to understand about the phrase “Congress shall make no law ….”?

    1. Oh, Ron. Don’t you see how only dangerous, crypto-Republican corporate shills like us could possibly understand the proper use of a semi-colon?

      You poor benighted soul…

  7. Correct me if I’m wrong here:

    Democrats tend to be very, very pro-democracy thinking that “the will of the people” is the highest force in the world. Populism is to be welcomed and encouraged, even.

    On the other hand, they think that some people shouldn’t be allowed to say what they think because the mindless voters merely grasp at whatever message they see repeated the most frequently — implying that voters are wholly incapable of thinking for themselves and rejecting bad or stupid arguments.

    Does anyone else see that as a contradiction?

    1. They see the will of the people as being something that you can manipulate to allow rule of the few. After all, the urban rabble can’t be allowed to think and act for itself.

  8. Well, the first amendment does contain the phrase “the right of the people”. The phrase “the people” appears a few times throughout the document, and given that the very beginning of the constitution makes references to both “We the People of the United States” and “the People of the several States”, it seems rather obvious to me that whenever the phrase “the people” is being used, it’s referring to Americans, and not the people of the world.

    My problem with allowing foreign corporations to donate money to American politicians is that in many countries, corporations are a subsidiary of the host government itself. Do we really want to open the door to countries like China being able to directly influence our elections by funneling money through their state-owned front corporations? The American people would never go for such a thing in a million years, and rightly so.

    1. Very good point in your last paragraph Mike. Unfortunately you seem to have posted it in the wrong thread.

      This thread is about the Citizens United decision, which concerns laws limiting corporate ability to publish ads regarding candidates, not their ability to donate directly to the candidates’ campaigns.

      1. Publishing ads is more effective than direct donations.

        Why take a risk on an incompetent campaign staff?

        1. aaaaaand you’ve switched complaints now that its been showing your initial wailing was a mis-characterization of reality.

          stop talking

    2. yeah, cherry picker you left off the last part of your “the right of the people” which is “peaceably to assemble”

    3. Mike M: With due respect, taking the semicolons out the First amendment would serially read something like this:

      Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

      Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.

      Congress shall make no law abridging the right of the people peaceably to assemble; and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

      I note the abridge means “curtail or deprive of rights.”

      If such a construction is correct, then “the people” aspect of the amendment actually refers to assembling and petitioning, not to religion, speech, or press.

    4. Re: Mike M,

      The American people would never go for such a thing in a million years, and rightly so.

      Then what are you worried about? If Americans are as conscientious as you believe, then no law prohibiting these so-called “foreign companies” from participating in the elections is necessary..

    5. it seems rather obvious to me that whenever the phrase “the people” is being used, it’s referring to Americans, and not the people of the world.

      In the U.S. Constitution that’s true. But the rights the First Amendment protects belong to the “all men” that are created equal, according to the Declaration of Independence.

      Do we really want to open the door to countries like China being able to directly influence our elections by funneling money through their state-owned front corporations? The American people would never go for such a thing in a million years, and rightly so.

      Half right. Any candidate accepting large donations from China would be political toast. The American people can make that decision themselves, no legislation needed.

  9. The irony exists in hypocritical conservatives who squeal “we’re giving away our US sovereignty!” and then turn around and support foreign political campaigns here.

    It was certainly constitutional for GE to buy Honeywell several years back (two US companies) – but the European Union killed the deal.

    Its nearly irrelevant anyway since foreign subsidiaries incorporate here and will have no donation limitations.

  10. My only problem with allowing corporations to advertise in favor of or against candidates is equal time. When oh when will candidates (especially presidential candidates) get any kind of media exposure to set the record straight on the allegations that corporations make?

    1. I’m calibrating my detector Hugh, please bear with me. Was that sarcasm?

      1. It was, JW. Politicians and candidates in particular are shameless media whores.

        1. Thanks. There! Perfectly calibrated now.

  11. We don’t want Audi influencing our elections, therefore GM must not be allowed to publish an editorial.

  12. Forget the whole argument. If it was really as easy as all that for foreigners to influence corporations through “intesting” in them, then why aren’t all the voices supposedly “drowned out” by this ruling simply influencing corporations by “investing” in them.

    What makes foreign investors so powerful in libs’ minds? How come the foreigners’ power to influence corporations exceeds that of richest nation on earth’s individuals?

  13. I, for one, believe Benetton to be an evil, foreign corporation.

    I still think they have a right to their stupid ads defending murderers and such.

  14. Of all the tasteless and idiotic moments of the SOTU, hating on free speech and teh evil foreigners was one of the worst. It’s sad that stuff is still an acceptable card to play.

    1. Close your eyes and you’d swear it was a Republican talking.

  15. Hey, progressives believe in free speech: everyone can speak as much as they want, as long as they don’t spend any money to do so.

  16. What has astonished me is the jingoism embodied in such statements by the president and other so-called progressives.

    That astonished you? I always expect it from Progressives.

    By the way, nice to see the word “Progressive” is slowly taking hold of our everyday lingo to describe these guys, as it should.

  17. Paid Lies ? Free Speech

    This place is called “Reason”?

    Is it reasonable to celebrate the ushering in of 1984?

    Corporations are People. War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.

    1. Your comment is Drink!

    2. “[…] ushering in of 1984?”

      Hah! Hahahahaha!

      Wow, that was rich. Filmmakers can now say critical things about Presindential candidates without being threatened with jail time, and that’s ushering in 1984!

      What a maroon!

      1. No, the court did NOT decide the case narrowly. Roberts and Alito were shown to be frauds on all their vituperations against judicial activism.

        Again and again you guys completely ignore the facts and believe what you want to be true.

        They DID just enshrine the principles of corporate fascism into law.

        Open your fucking eyes.

        1. Woohoo! Corporate fascism because now corporations can run ads about candidates! Which will be so effective, just like their ads encouraging you to buy their products! I mean, I’m so brainwashed I bought a truck that was heavily advertised! I’ll buy whatever politician is heavily advertised too! Like Barack Obama! And John McCain!

          Wait, I din’t vote for either one of them… I think there’s a flaw in your imaginary scheme, jb.

          1. You may not have voted for them, but almost everyone else did.

            Advertisements work, why do you think companies keep paying for them? Plus they can engage in other electioneering action, like hiring organizers or funding phone banks.

            Campaigns run on money, ask any campaign manager. Ask any politician who has to spend more and more time fundraising and less and less time making law.

            Our politics are now industrialized. Your voice is lost in a sea of corporate cash. They now own our government-formerly-known-as-a-Democracy. Please wake up.

            1. Wow. Do you believe in literacy tests before allowing the hoi-palloi to vote, too?

            2. jb: Why do you hate foreign corporations?

              1. I don’t hate or like corporations foreign or domestic. They are non-moral entities. They are useful tools, like a wrench or a computer, created for a purpose, to make money, as far as I knew.

                They are not moral actors and have no place in our electoral system. We are supposed to have a government by, of, and for the People. Not Of the Corporations, By the Corporations, and For the Corporations.

                1. “We are supposed to have a government by, of, and for the People. Not Of the Corporations, By the Corporations, and For the Corporations.”

                  Does this include Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, and Greenpeace? These are Non-Profit International Corporations. Should they be prohibited from speaking about U.S. Government Policy?

                  1. jb’s secret hate is organized labor, as they are arranged in corporate form.

                  2. good question. I was referring to for-profit corporations. People donate to a non-profit to support goals in areas they feel the non-profit speaks for them on. However when a person buys something they aren’t doing so with the goal of supporting the corporations that made, transported, and sold the product.

                    However, personally I think these groups speaking out for their issues is enough; they don’t need to advocate for or against specific candidates in electioneering speech.

                2. They are useful tools, like a wrench or a computer, created for a purpose, to make money, as far as I knew.

                  So i use a wrench for the purpose of making a film about how I hate Hillary Clinton….your view is that because i used a wrench to criticize a politician I should be muzzled.

                  You view on free speech is severely flawed.

                  1. The non-profit Citizens United making the video against Hillary wasn’t at question. What was at question was doing it while receiving funding from another, for-profit, corporation.

                    1. Hey, jb:

                      “Congress shall make no law…”

                      Deal with it.

        2. I’m goosestepping by just thinking about it!

        3. If I and a friend of mine wish to pool our money, form an LLC for liability reasons, and then make a film to say harshly critical things of he ruling class, why should I be threatened with fines and jail?

          Wake up yourself – how do you think enough money is raised to actually buy advertising time? Unless you support the notion of an oligarchy that can fund their own political campaigns? Talk about a return to Robber Barons and Oil Tycoons!

  18. How about a Canadian Corporation buying time on a Windsor, ON TV station? A Mexican corporation advertising on a Tijuana radio station? A Bahamian readio station?

    With more and more folks getting their info from the net. What about foreign companies running ads on servers in other countries?

  19. A lot of the “progressives” I know bitch about outsourcing and that whole deal where a US company’s call center is in India, even though these practices provide work for the sort of people (the poor and the non-white) progressives are always claiming they want to help.

  20. To quote myself from elsewhere:

    Really, the cynicism in the “foreign corporations” line of argument is quite breathtaking. If the concern is foreign influence in U.S. politics, why should it matter if they’re organized as corporations or not? Is there some magic transformation that happens if a foreign government buys ad time through a limited liability corporation rather than an unincorporated front group? Let’s pass a thorough anti-foreign-influence law, and suspend the speech, press, and assembly clauses for all non-citizens, whether acting through a limited-liability entity or not.

    Ninety days in prison followed by deportation for illegal immigrants who protest the actions of, say, Sheriff Joe Arpaio sounds about right. After all, gotta keep those foreigners from trying to influence American elected officials.

  21. Remind me – was there a huge outpouring of angst from the progressive community when the foreign contributions were laundered through Buddhist nuns before being given to Al Gore. No? Thought not – the only coporation there was China, Inc., which was the Clinton’s bestest campaign contributor (remind me again how many took the fifth or fled the country – it was over 50, all told, as I recall).

    1. But but…. Bill feels for us!

  22. Ron, when are you going to post about the recent developments in net neutrality? I find it amusing that the “net neutrality” proponents are all up in arms over the FCC’s version of neutrality which allows “pipe” owners to filter out copyrighted material. Linky

  23. People keep equating the “corporations” affected by the case with General Motors and Exxon. The players who actually had their free speech blocked were organizations like Common Cause and the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action, which are expressly formed to give individual people a more powerful voice in the political process.

  24. It bothers me that we are worried about foreign corporations influencing US elections. The US Gov interferes in elections all around the world, both overtly (as in Iraq and Afghanistan) and covertly (through the CIA.)
    Is the democratic process sacred?

  25. A huge body of case-law makes it clear that the word, “person” (the singular form for the word “people”) includes non-citizen foreigners. Thus, the protections of the bill of rights, including the First Amendment, apply to all people, not just to citizens, but the protections of the “equal protection” clause of the Fourteenth Amendment apply only to “citizens.” The only thing heretofore that prevented, say, Toyota, from buying enough Congresspeople to shove through a law making Toyota not liable for the people killed by its jammed accelerators was the corporate contribution ban. There is nothing about Toyota’s foreign-ness that prevented it from contributing to Congressional elections–just the 107 years worth of precedents that the U.S. Supreme Court overruled last week.
    And while we’re at it, look closely at the re-plays of Alito telling Obama, “You’re wrong.” He said it BEFORE Obama said anything about foreign corporations. He was disagreeing with Obama saying that the decision would allow corporations, generally, to buy elections. As usual, the right-wing-nuts get it wrong.

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