Saturday, April 21, 2012

The People, United, Will Never...

This year's slam-dunk, gonna-pass-with-an-overwhelming-voice-vote article on the Town Meeting warrant is Article 28: "Reversing Citizen's United v. Federal Election Commission."

I'm trying to decide whether or not it is worth my time or the risk of being a pariah to speak against it at Town Meeting. I don't like Town Meeting taking up national issues in the first place; I understand it is a grand tradition, but it seems to me if the people of Amherst feel strongly about a National issue then they should contact their congresscritters about it.

Or maybe if they don't agree with their congresscritter they should form an organization to pool their efforts and try to amplify their voice... like the Citizen's United organization.

I don't like Article 28 from it's very first sentence, which says:
Whereas: the First Amendment to the United States Constitution was designed to protect the free speech rights of people, not Corporations;
Since corporations didn't exist in the US as legal entities until 1811 that's true. Although I'm not sure that is relevant; the First Amendment doesn't give a lot of wiggle-room when it comes to free speech rights:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech...
Seems pretty clear to me; there's no exception for "... except if the speech happens to be a TV commercial about a political candidate, paid for by an organization instead of an individual, aired just before an election." There's no way to be sure, but I imagine if TVs had existed back in the 1700's our Founding Fathers would have been producing and distributing revolutionary videos in addition to pamphlets and broadsides. They might have even funded that activity using money from their businesses.

If you read the actual text of the Supreme Court decision (available online), they cite an interesting precedent for "Corporations do have a right to free speech" that I haven't seen mentioned at all-- NAACP v. Button, a 1961 civil rights case where the state of Virginia had passed laws making it hard for the NAACP to find disaffected people and file civil rights suits on their behalf. The NAACP is a corporation, not a person, so I suppose you could argue that the Supreme Court was wrong back then, too-- that the Virginia legislature aught to be able to do whatever it likes to the NAACP because corporations have no rights. Newspapers are corporations these days, too; maybe that means that other pesky part of the First Amendment about freedom of the press doesn't apply, either. Right?

I do agree with parts of Article 28; I think there is too much money in politics. But I don't think passing a constitutional amendment and then making it illegal for corporations and unions to make TV commercials or movies for or against candidates or issues that they care about would change that at all; they would just Find Another Way. If they can't fund a TV commercial, maybe they'll find a celebrity sympathetic to their cause and get that celebrity to promote the cause (and maybe the corporation will make an extra generous donation to that celebrity's favorite charity...).

I'd like to shrink government to lower the stakes; if there weren't millions of dollars in subsidies at stake I'm pretty sure the American Beet Grower's association wouldn't spend hundreds of thousands of dollars every year on lobbying. And if the Federal Government wasn't spending billions of dollars on education I'm pretty sure the teacher's union wouldn't spend tens of millions of dollars a year lobbying the Federal Government.  They'd spend all that money lobbying at the state and local level instead, which seems like the Left aught to support as a political version of "Buy Local."

Update: passed after zero discussion and a unanimous voice vote.  I abstained.

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