News Article

Supreme Court Comes To the Aid of Disenfranchised Corporations

Milton Moskowitz
According to Advertising Age, the authoritative source for such statistics, the 10 largest advertisers in the U.S. in 2008 were Procter & Gamble ($4.8 billion), Verizon ($3.7 billion), AT&T ($3 billion), General Motors ($2.9 billion), Johnson & Johnson ($2.5 billion), Unilever ($2.4 billion), Walt Disney ($2.2 billion), Time Warner ($2.2 billion), General Electric ($2 billion), and Sears Holding ($1.8 billion).
As astronomical as those figures may seem to you, they mask the discrimination that has prevented these companies from spending even more money to express their opinions. You may be annoyed by the constant interruption of TV programs by idiotic commercials, but the fact is, corporations have, until now, been saddled with restraints inhibiting them from exercising their right to speak.
That’s over now. In January the Supreme Court stepped up to the plate and ruled unconstitutional laws that prohibited companies (and labor unions, too) from spending their general funds on advertising for the election or defeat of a political candidate. Now they are free to spend as much money as they want in political campaigns.
And why not? We are a country that abhors discrimination of any kind. Remember when African-Americans were kept from voting in Southern states by imposition of a poll tax? And remember when women were not allowed to vote? Those restrictions were comparable to the barriers we put up to deny corporations the right to spend their well-deserved profits on political advertising. Millions of Americans wrote checks to help Barack Obama win the 2008 presidential election. But what about Procter & Gamble, General Motors, Verizon and Walt Disney? They were disenfranchised. As Cleta Mitchell, a top Republican election lawyer, said after the Supreme Court decision came down, the ruling “has ripped the duct tape off the mouths of the American people.”
To refresh or memories, let’s keep in mind what the First Amendment to the onstitution says:

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 people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

That amendment was intended to safeguard the rights of individuals to voice their opinions. There was no mention of corporations but that’s because they really were not around in 1791 when this amendment was ratified. Now they play a major role in our economy and are considered “persons.” So, just like you and me, they have the right to speak up. Five justices on the Supreme Court took it upon themselves to go beyond the narrow issues of the case before them – Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission – and go for the jugular: strike down laws discriminating against corporations. Lawyers for Citizens United had not asked for such a sweeping judgment but the court majority came to the aid of the Fortune 500. Representative Mike Pence, a Republican from Indiana, hailed the decision, saying it “takes us one step closer to the Founding Fathers’ vision of free speech.”
Now corporations juggling their billion-dollar ad budgets will be able simply to add political candidates to their brand lineup. And best of all, there will be no limits on how much they can spend. It’s only fair. They have the money and should be allowed to spend it to voice their opinions. If you don’t like it, you can always push the mute button on your remote.