When Corporations Speak

When Corporations Speak

Their views are diverse, and now their speech is protected.

To: Hillary Rodham Clinton,

Secretary of State and Former Presidential Candidate


Dear Madame Secretary:

I am writing to thank you for, once again, being a target—and thereby, a catalyst for change.

For years, members of the Incumbent Party have conspired to pass laws that make it more difficult to get rid of incumbents. These laws are called “campaign finance reform.”

When people hear an officeholder talk of reform, it usually means they should grasp their wallets in both hands, but in the case of campaign finance reform, they should grab the Constitution. It clearly states that Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech, but Congress has been doing exactly that. Thanks to a case involving you, those efforts have been rolled back.

A nonprofit company, Citizens United, prepared a particularly obnoxious video attacking you, planning to offer it via on-demand television during your 2008 presidential campaign and to advertise the on-demand availability on broadcast and cable networks. Under federal law at the time, corporations and unions could not engage in electioneering 30 days before a primary or 60 days before a general election without the permission of the Federal Election Commission. Fearing criminal prosecution for ads promoting its anti-you video, Citizens United sought to invalidate the statutory scheme in federal court. Ultimately, the case came before the United States Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court’s opinion in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission held that the free speech protection of the United States Constitution extends to all speakers, regardless of whether they are individuals or corporations. Companies, labor unions, and all other types of entities are free to spend whatever they want to at any time for election communications, as long as they are independent of political parties or candidates.

Contrary to overwrought punditry (some from the White House), this does not mean that foreign corporations can make political contributions. Also, corporations and labor unions (with some exceptions) are still prohibited from making direct contributions to political parties or candidates. What these entities are now able to do is to engage in free speech activities.

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