Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission

I've heard a lot of moaning about the recent Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision from the Supreme Court. Most people are grumbling about corporations having the same rights as citizens when it comes to speech, and other such party line complaints.

I want to make this very short and sweet. If you think this is about corporations taking over the public dialog, you probably just have not read enough. This decision is about everyone's free speech, and the role of government in regulating this speech.

1) This decision stemmed from a group of people who were barred from releasing a movie that was very critical of Hillary Clinton prior to an election. When questioned if the current campaign finance laws would allow the government to ban any movie, book, or editorial content being published by a corporate entity, the FEC lawyers replied "yes". This happened... and most of the justices probably vomited.

2) I tend to see the individual as being much more important than corporations when it comes to legal matters, but there is a point that I think most of you are missing. Virtually all ideas, books, movies are published by corporate entities! This campaign finance law may not have been used much, but it would technically allow the government to stop the release of any movie or book near an election that could be interpreted as campaign material. Michael Moore's film Fahrenheit 911 was released right before the Bush V Kerry election, and was very critical of Bush. If this law had been used in that case, the government could have blocked the release of Fahrenheit 911. Completely unthinkable!

3) Any number of political books, movies, and advertisements would qualify for government censorship if this law had stayed in place. Do you trust the Federal Election Commission to decide what content is too political, or too positive or negative leading up to an election? I don't. Most individuals disseminate ideas through organizations, not all by themselves. I don't care if it is a union, a corporation, or a non-profit... it isn't the role of the feds to regulate any of this speech.

You should agree with me. This decision needed to happen if the 1st Amendment was to mean anything.

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