On Citizens United, Democrats Demagogue Free Speech

Actually, corporations are people too.

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By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

The Democrats appear to be so afraid of free speech, applied equally in the political arena that they have taken to—let’s be charitable—misstating the facts about the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in the Citizens’ United case. Case in point is the assertion, which President Barack Obama himself made in his most recent State of the Union address, that the court’s ruling in Citizens’ United would “open the floodgates for special interests--including foreign corporations--to spend without limit in our elections.”

The idea that foreign interests might subvert the nation’s independence by interfering in the U.S. electoral process is a concern almost as old as the nation itself. It’s one reason the Founding Fathers included in Article II of the U.S. Constitution the provision that “No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President.”

As applied to the Citizens United decision, the idea that foreign dollars are suddenly going to pour into U.S. campaigns is big lie No. 1. Nevertheless, as my bloleague Linda Killian wrote here Saturday, the Democrats have made a prohibition against it the centerpiece of their legislative proposal to overturn the court’s decision. Such a move is unnecessary and demagogic.

As former Federal Election Commission Chairman Bradley Smith writes in the May 2010 issue of the American Spectator, “Another provision of federal law, not at issue in the (Citizens’ United) case, already prohibits any foreign national, including foreign corporations, from spending money in any federal campaign. FEC regulations, which have the force of law, further prohibit any foreign national from playing any role in the political spending decisions of any U.S. corporation, political action committee or association.”

The Democrats propose to make illegal what is already illegal, just to win votes for their bill. Leaving aside some very real cases in which foreign nationals contributed to U.S. political campaigns--Buddhist monks, Chinese nationals linked to the People’s Red Army, subsidies to the U.S. Communist Party coming directly from Moscow and other examples where the best the Democrats could do was yawn--the real motivation behind the their new campaign speech bill is to restrict the ability of corporations to exercise their rights under the first amendment as just restored to them by the nation’s highest court.

“Liberals don’t understand that corporations are people,” columnist Ben Stein wrote back in 1974. “They are the people who work for the corporation, buy its products, and own its stock. There is no mechanical person who is benefited if corporations make a good profit. Real people benefit, just as real people lose when corporations lose money.”

True enough. But it is also true that corporations have as much of a vested interest in the political system (if not more) as, oh, public employee labor unions, environmental groups and the trial lawyers, all of whom see corporations as large piles of money waiting to be divided up to satisfy the demands of the spending interests. By restricting corporations’ right to free speech they not only hold a straw man up to the American people in an effort to scare them into supporting their position, they stick a gag in their mouth so they can’t complain before and while their carcasses are being picked over.

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