Watchdog Blog

Barry Sussman: A Simple Solution for Corporate ‘Free Speech’

Posted at 3:23 pm, January 24th, 2010
Barry Sussman Mug

A friend and contributor to Nieman Watchdog, Martin Lobel, sent this emaiI with the suggestion that people pass it along. Looks worth passing along to me. Here’s Marty:

“I don’t know whether you’re as upset with the Supreme Court’s legislating in Citizens United v. FEC as I am, but there is a simple solution that is totally consistent with the Court’s analysis.

“Because the Court ruled that a corporation’s free speech is so important in being able to present its position, we need legislation to make sure that such expenditures do represent the views of the board of directors by requiring a public vote of the board on any such expenditures. It will be hard for the Republicans to oppose such legislation, although they will. But that should be part of a concerted effort to show how the Republicans are for the rich and powerful and why they are opposing every reform that is brought before Congress.

“Boards are supposed to represent the interests of the shareholders, not just management. If they oppose the provision, it’s clear whom they represent. I would also focus on the intellectual bankruptcy of the Court’s decision. For example, Antonin Scalia divined the founding fathers’ original intent as protecting corporate free speech, even though they didn’t have modern corporations in those days and Jefferson warned against such concentrations of power.”

5 Responses to “A Simple Solution for Corporate ‘Free Speech’”

  1. Dee Papit says:

    Mr. Sussman,

    I agree with the view of the shared email that the Supreme Court decision was a supreme overreach and that law must now require boards to be fully supportive of the political ambitions of the corporation. But beyond this I have a question: If a corporation (a fiction) can have the same free speech rights as an individual, then does it not have the same liabilities as an individual?

    For example, if a corporation’s product causes injury or death of an individual, should the managers of that corporation no go to jail, as a person would?

    I, as an individual have the right to free speech, but I can also be held responsible – as a crime with jail time – if my actions cause injury. A corporation, just “pays” its way out via a lawsuit as a fiction.

    I’m not naive, I know there are laws for criminal actions by CEO’s, et al., but given the recent banking meltdown, these laws for a corporate fiction are obtuse and difficult to pin on an individual.

    Doesn’t this ruling seem to give corporations a favorable view of what they are when it suits – an individual wanting free speech – and what they are – a LLC that can kill people – when it also suits?

    Just a curious reader,
    Dee Papit, Virginia

  2. Charles says:

    Barry Sussman says “we need legislation to make sure that such expenditures do represent the views of the board of directors by requiring a public vote of the board on any such expenditures”

    Board of Directors, h–l. We need (a) a vote of the shareholders, and it should be a majority of the shares, not just a majority of the votes, (b) since such expenditures are not clearly an item of normal corporate business but may constitute bribery or extortion, prior approval should be obtained for each and every expenditure, and (c) if corporations are persons, then we need to exclude all foreign corporations– those with sufficient interests outside of the United States that they may work against the interests of the people of the United States.

    This ruling is absolutely absurd. The Constitution says that justices serve while they act with “good behavior.” Their contemptuous behavior in overturning 100 years of American law is not just not “good,” it’s downright wicked.

  3. forthepeople says:

    This court ruling reminds me of the cynicism in the movie Syriana when one of the main characters is working out a compromise with the Justice Department, looking for the “illusion of due process”.

    The aftermath of this ruling will follow the same template that has recycled for years; rights will be usurped, mock intellectual arguments will be made, politicians and reporters will give out the requisite perfunctory, transitory yelp of outrage (but not actually “do” anything). There will also be shy, tangential “suggestions” like this blog put forward; much like giving a bath to the 1000lb gorilla in the room.

    Democracies like many other things die quietly,”Not with a bang but with a whimper”.

    The real problem is the lack of interest/education in the general populace to what a ruling like this really means to them personally and what they do in response. Rights designed for people (individuals) are being assigned to partners in an economic and political hegemony that doesn’t care about the rights of the general population. The actors in this hegemony will do what they please; often feeding their own insatiable greed, with the docile compliance and cooperation of the people that will be subjugated by it.

    This ruling won’t mean that some guy will come to your house demanding your first born, but it will mean a whole host of other things: Wealth disparity will grow larger, “allowable” dissention will be quieter (amazing the irony of using the 1st amendment to create it), and the circle of those in control of profits, power, and productivity will be strengthened and emboldened since they will participate in writing future laws that apply to them. In essence the privileged will live even better than they already do and the rest will fight ever harder to get a small piece of economic security in their life.

    Elections are no longer won by ideas but by money. Don’t believe it? Here is just one of many studies:

  4. Darlene says:

    I don’t think the Republicans will dare complain about liberal activist Judges making law from the bench again.

  5. Sagacity says:

    Darlene, yes they will. The Republicans never concern themselves with consistency in their arguments. And they won’t even believe they are being inconsistent. Only decisions that favor a liberal viewpoint are activist because conservative views are simply correct (in their warped minds).

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