Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Supremes Speak of "Speech"

News was made this third week in January: Fragile Haiti Beyond Recovery,
Massachusetts Replaces a Senator Kennedy, Obama Completes First Year, and
Corporations Given Voices by U.S. Supreme Judges.

Let's look at the last story. By a slim margin, 5 to 4, the Supreme Court overturned decades of regulations and precedents for the country's election campaigns. Basically, five conservative justices removed restrictions on corporations that prevent them from directly funding elections.

That's right, AT&T or EXXON-Mobil can reward their friends in Congress for passing the current telecommunications law and for the lack of any climate change legislation in the last decade, directly from their general treasury.

The reasoning of the Majority who decided the about-face goes like this:
Corporations, like individual citizens, have First Amendment rights to free speech. Those parts of campaign finance laws that limit corporate contributions are violations of the right to corporate "free speech."

A personal note: I have been well treated over decades by a number of U.S. corporations. A college scholarship, a graduate fellowship, a number of good technology jobs with increasing responsibility and benefits, and a retirement pension that includes a qualifying prescription drug plan.

As an "exempt" (from overtime) management employee, I contributed to the Company's Political Action Committee (PAC) and attended the political meetings with friendly elected Representatives and Senators, along with ranking Company officials.

However, the corporations I worked for, existed to provide services and products for our customers. We provided good jobs for company employees, and our profits returned dividends and stock value to the shareholders. We also provided contributions to the communities in which we operated. Our purpose was never to use revenue from customers to pay for the political campaigns of our friends.

What about corporate "Speech"? I have searched for the source of a quote I heard years ago and still enjoy repeating. In the 1700s Edward Thurlow in England is reported to have argued that "the company was only a juristic figment of the imagination, lacking both a body to be kicked and a soul to be damned."

To sum up this week in Washington D. C., Damn those Five Judges!

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