Jan 252010
 
Authors: Ian Bezek

The Supreme Court’s decision last week was an interesting one.

By overturning a historical precedent prohibiting corporations from directly donating to political campaigns, many have claimed that the quality of American democracy is about to nosedive.

But critics of this decision miss an important point. The simple fact is that the First Amendment specifically enshrines the right to free speech of any and all individuals. Under separate and unrelated law, corporations have the right to act as individuals in many cases.

If you don’t like the ramifications of this decision, your complaint should be with the idea that corporations have access to the same rights as individuals. This is a controversial provision of American law that we, as citizens, should re-examine.

I am not convinced that this decision will degrade American democracy, but there certainly is the possibility that this decision will hurt political discourse.

That said, the Supreme Court’s decision was correction, ramifications of it be darned. The First Amendment clearly prohibits the Congress from banning speech, saying, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.” No law, regardless of circumstances.

If this decision leads to bad outcomes, we need to examine the roots of the problem. The problem is that we don’t have a satisfactory way of funding political campaigns.

For decades now, we’ve debated whether to finance campaigns publicly or privately and we’ve seen questions regarding whether and when individuals, independent organizations and corporations can contribute to and/or independently campaign for candidates. Even after the implementation of campaign finance reform that was supposed to “clean up” campaigns, we saw scandals such as the Chinese’s donations to President Clinton’s campaign.

As long as the government is capable of doling out tons of money, power and status to its friends, there will be scandals, fraud and bribery involved in electing our politicians – that is the problem. Attacking the First Amendment is not the answer to our corrupt campaigns, and we shouldn’t
be willing to sacrifice the Bill of Rights to fix our problems.

If you wants to fix corrupt campaigns, you have to reduce the ability of the government to shower favors on its friends. But what are the odds of that happening?

Seeing as how the government is never going to limit itself, our best hope is amending the Constitution to specifically address how political campaigns should be financed.

If we give the government the power to limit the First Amendment in this case, they’ll take that liberty to start limiting it in other areas we may find more offensive, such as banning the practice of Islam or the publication of antigovernment media.

That said, I would prefer that corporations not have unlimited power to influence campaigns. At minimum, corporations should be limited by the same $2,300 donation cap that individuals are.

Regardless of what happens, I think Erik Myers’ dystopian MyersCorp (see Erik Myers column today) isn’t a real danger. Corporations were far more powerful during the Gilded Age of America in the late 1800s than they are now. Our anti-monopoly laws are reasonably powerful, and the natural capitalist market does a good job of killing monopolies.

Twenty years ago, Sears was going to crush all retail, five years ago Wal-mart was going to kill all competition. Now people are starting to boycott Wal-mart because it has gotten too big and have started to support competitors such as Target and even local places. Beside, unions and other such liberal organizations will provide a strong counterbalance to corporate money.

Look on the bright side, the flood of corporate money in campaigns might help save the media, who, as we all know, desperately need new revenue streams, meaning this court decision could help defend our right to free speech in more than one way.
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Editorials Editor Ian Bezek is a senior economics major. His column regularly appears Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com. _

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