January 22, 2010

"The Supreme Court has handed lobbyists a new weapon," says the New York Times.

The "weapon" is the First Amendment right to free speech, in a case about corporations and interest groups that aim political speech at the general public before an election. But "weapon" isn't the word I want to concentrate on here. I want to talk about "lobbyist."

Should we really be calling public speech "lobbying"?

The dictionary meaning of the verb "to lobby" is "To try to influence the thinking of legislators or other public officials for or against a specific cause."

Black's Law Dictionary — I'm looking at the 6th edition — defines "lobbying" as:
All attempts including personal solicitation to influence legislators to vote in a certain way or to introduce legislation.
But the political speech that the Supreme Court was talking about — advertising and a full-length movie about a candidate — isn't aimed at legislators and trying to influence their votes. It's trying to persuade voters. Why are we calling that lobbying?

This speech is out in the open for all to hear and accept or reject. It's not behind-the-scenes. There's no special access involved. Think of the origin of the term. It actually involves a lobby — in the sense of a foyer or antechamber:
Most likely, we got the term from the English Parliament, where petitioners would hang out in the corridors and reception rooms outside the chambers in which the legislature met, and try to talk to and persuade individual Members of Parliament to take up their cause as the Members walked in and out of the sessions...

[W]herever lawmakers have met — including Federal Hall in New York, the first seat of our U.S. Congress in 1789, and Congress Hall in Philadelphia, hangers-on and both wealthy and desperate petitioners were seen gathering in the rooms around the assembly, some of which were, and are, called "lobbies." The reception and meeting area behind the House chamber in the Capitol, for example, is referred to as the "Speaker's Lobby."

Another story has it that the lobby of the Willard Hotel in Washington -- one of its oldest and grandest — was frequented by wealthy special interest petitioners who were looking to intercept Members of Congress and the President, whose residence was a mere block away, as they came to dine there. It is said that President Ulysses S. Grant wearied of the petitioners whom he scornfully labeled as "the lobbyists."
But you don't hang around in a lobby — literally or figuratively — trying to get the ear of a legislator when you're exercising the the right the Supreme Court was talking about. You're talking to the people — the voters — and you're doing your best to get what you're saying out where everyone can hear it. I wouldn't call that "lobbying." And the reason against calling it lobbying is also a reason against suppressing it. The speech is out there in the marketplace of ideas, competing with other speech, exposed to argument and refutation.

Now, you might want to say that some speech is too loud and pervasive and strong, too much able to drown out competing voices in the marketplace of ideas. But if that's what you really want to say, it will be kind of ridiculous if you are The New York Times.

ADDED: On rereading, I can see that the NYT made the distinction between lobbying and political speech that I'm insisting on. Their — its —  idea of the new "weapon" is not the speech that corporations will make in the public sphere, but rather the threats of speech that lobbyists — defined properly — will make in private too legislators:
“We have got a million we can spend advertising for you or against you — whichever one you want,’ ” a lobbyist can tell lawmakers....

110 comments:

oldirishpig said...

God forbid, some mere corporation horn in on the turf of the NY Times, lol. How dare those corporate people have opinions!

ricpic said...

As long as it's not done in rest rooms I'm good with it whether it's lobbying or advertising.

Big Mike said...

Think of the American electorate as a great, mindless, mass of humanity that can be readily swayed by glibness, hearsay, and innuendo. Now think of the American electorate as being composed of thinking adults that can look at various forms of advertising and make rational decisions.

The election of Barack Obama suggests that the former model is close to the truth. The election of Scott Brown suggests not. The Constitution also assumes that the former model is wrong, and that the American people have a right to speak freely, leaving it to their listeners to sort things out. I think maybe we should stick with the Constitution.

t-man said...

Kennedy's opinion is pretty persuasive in making the point that the ban on corporate advertisements actually advantaged the largest companies who have the finances to personally lobby members of Congress.

Chip Ahoy said...

Oh thanks! You just reminded me to get the free puzzle from cruciverb Wanna race?

TMink said...

Yeah, this decision really worries me. Now, congressmen like John Murtha will be bribed while before this decisions they were honest.

On second thought, never mind.

Trey

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Now, you might want to say that some speech is too loud and pervasive and strong, too much able to drown out competing voices in the marketplace of ideas. But if that's what you really want to say, it will be kind of ridiculous if you are The New York Times.

So maybe this whole plan to make people pay to read the Times online is intended to mute their own voice, out of their deep sense of fairness.

Original Mike said...

"Why are we calling that lobbying?"

For the simple fact that the NYT considers the term "lobbying" a pejorative.

The Ghost said...

lobbyists will hate this ruling ...

the lobbying business was a 2.5 BILLION dollar industry in 2009, down from over 3 billion in 2008. Guess who paid them most of that money .... corporations !!!!

so now they don't have to pay a lobbyist to get their voices heard ...

nice judo move by the NYT, trying to portray this as a pro-lobbyist ruling when in fact it is not ...

avwh said...

As usual, it seems the NYT has it back-asswards.

Without free speech rights, corporations funneled all their influencing $$ through lobbyists. Now, those corporations can cut out that middleman if they choose, and advertise directly to voters.

How that hands lobbyists a new weapon I fail to see.

The Ghost said...

please remember this ruling has no effect on direct donations ...

Opus One Media said...

congressman "a", an incumbant now faces a strong challenge from candidate "b". candidate "b" has gathered a fair amount of popular support and his fundraising from individual voters, still capped, is neck and neck.

congressman "a" turns to a group that doesn't vote and, as he is in power or in position, simply asks for two things: 1. produce and pay for ads that support me and 2. produce and run ads that villify his opponet.

from appearances to the average voter, who doesn't know either the motivation or identity of the non-voter sponsoring this media blitz as none of the money flows through public scrutiny, a different light is cast on the election.

That is the delightful new weapon and it is far removed from any lobbying. It is, however, in the same room as bribery.

Florida said...

"But the political speech that the Supreme Court was talking about — advertising and a full-length movie about a candidate — isn't aimed at legislators and trying to influence their votes."

It's pretty clear what the legislators fear.

Currently, the way it works is that party leaders introduce legislation they know will attract lots of lobbyists ... say health care.

The best kind of legislation is the kind that will generate a lot of lobbyists on both sides of the issue. Mores the better for garnering the campaign contribution bribes.

At the end of the day, often nothing changes ... except the account balances of legislators.

Now ... one side might be pissed off that they didn't get their way, but under current law they don't have a lot of muscle.

But with this ruling, they can now threaten legislators that if they vote the wrong way, they'll run ads against that candidate come election time.

The party's over. Now, legislators might actually have somebody out there with some bucks and motivated to oust them.

They might actually have to take actual positions on issues of the day, instead of running campaign contribution bribe fundraisers every few months without ever having to vote.

Now, people have free speech ... a weapon with which to remove legislators from their sinecures.

Don't for a minute think they'll take this sitting down.

The Supreme Court just put a huge target on its back and I have no doubt Congress will only be debating which weapon to use to knife them.

AllenS said...

The new weapon is going to be a hot curling iron that they will shove up the butts of all Americans!

Richard said...

Stupid editorial. But my initial take on that phrasing - and I'm too lazy to go back and reread the editorial - was that the new weapon the Supreme Court handed lobbyists was the ability to threaten the politicians that if they didn't comply, the lobbyists' clients would spend a gazillion dollars on negative ads.

The Ghost said...

opus one ...

you just described collusion, which is against the law ...

and if they do it legal, under the new rules we will all know who paid for those ads ... think that might give some corporations pause ? I do ...

Paul Zrimsek said...

Wouldn't matter if it was lobbying. The First Amendment protects that too.

SMGalbraith said...

Who will rid me of this troublesome First Amendment?

On first blush - and second - my guess is that this decision will likely lead to more government and more spending.

Apply public choice theory, add TV ads, stir. Result? More special interest programs and legislation.

The Ghost said...

so the NYT thinks a lobbyist will sit down with a politician and THREATEN him ? Really ???

In what alternate reality are they living in ?

For one, to actually do that for real is a crime, pure and simple.

But even if they just "hint" at it in any way it is quite easy for a politico to expose them as blackmailers.
Lobbyists are freindly to politicians for a reason. You hire a lobbyists because somebody may listen to him not because he's able to intimidate them.

David said...

NYT is just annoyed that the rest of the corporations get the same rights the NYT exercises.

Just imagine if the Congress had put a similar restriction on newspapers and electronic media, justifying it with the fact that papers have more money and power, and with "sociology" showing that they can be biased and affect elections.

We have come a long way down the wrong road and this decision is just a tiny and tentative move back to the proper path.

EDH said...

The more apt pejorative is "special interests," not "lobbyists."

MnMark said...

Corporations are just a group of people working together to create some kind of economic value and make money. We all have to create value and make money; it's one of the major things human beings have to do every day in order to survive. If politicians are going to use the power of government to pick favorites among businesses, disadvantaging some and giving others subsidies and so on, why shouldn't the people being disadvantaged have just as much right to try to sway the public opinion about it as anyone else? Is free speech supposed to only apply to people not speaking in furtherance of their economic interests?

The whole "evil corporations" thing is just another left-wing way of trying to level everyone to an equal level of mediocrity. No one's wanted to listen to their traditional prattle about the "proletariat" and so forth for 70 years, so they've had to adopt other language to try to get people's attention. Now it's all about "investments" in public (socialist) goods, and the evil of greedy "corporations". Same nonsense, different words.

Matt said...

Conservatives get angry when Wall Street and Banks get bailouts. But they have no problem when Wall Street and Corporations get a free pass to put money into campaigns and completely control the election process. This is what will happen now.

And, Ann, maybe it's above your thinking level today but a corporation having an opinion is one thing while using campaign money to pay for and essentially buy an election is another. The NY Times and corporations have always been able to endorse whomever they want. Only now they can actually put a shit load of money behnd that endorsement with no restrictions. Therefore they will easily inlfuence candidates to do their bidding - not the bidding of regular people [liberals and conservatives].

From Inwood said...

NYt has raised its terror level to "potent"

Robert Cook said...

The level of know-nothingism here is astonishing and dismaying, Opus One Media and Matt being the exceptions.

Peter V. Bella said...

Um Matt, what about when unions buy elections? Is that OK? SEIU spent millions to get Obama elected. What is the difference?

Note to air heads- unions and other non-profit corporations spend just as much on elections with their pooled money.

I guess the First Amendment only applies to unions and other alleged non-profit corporations.

SMGalbraith said...

It's protected speech.

It may be "bad" speech, hell, it may be ruinous speech, but it's still protected.

If we want to stop "bad" corporations from having too much legislative influence, we'll have to find another way.

This way is closed.

Peter V. Bella said...

Hey House, you old windbag, how they hangin? :)

Scott M said...

Can this week possibly get any better? Seriously...this is the most good news conservatives have had in quite a while and it's all been condensed down into a few short days.

If I were Japanese, the term "divine wind" would come to mind. Why in the world, outside the sheer humor of providence, would Air Amerika announce it's final collapse THIS week of all weeks?

Matt said...

Peter V. Bella
Actually I want restrictions on ALL money given to candidates including those from Unions. Due to this decision we may reach a point in which people like you and I do not have a voice unless we have lots of money.
Obama showed he could get a lot of money from smaller donations - and groups like the teabaggers are showing there is life in 'regular' folks. But this ruling really takes it out of our realm and right into the corporate's lap.

Some say I want to restrict free speech. And my answer is, Yes I want to restrict it to living breathing human beings we call the American citizens. Not to multinational corporation who care about nothing but profits.

[Note some of these corporations are located overseas. Do we want China influencing our elections?]

Synova said...

"Conservatives get angry when Wall Street and Banks get bailouts. But they have no problem when Wall Street and Corporations get a free pass to put money into campaigns and completely control the election process. This is what will happen now."

And these things are the same, how?

You know, being angry about bailouts has ZERO to do with disliking banks or corporations. It has to do with the State interfering in market checks and balances, snowballing the eventual crash to some future disaster, and refusing to let the weak or foolish fail and better business practices survive.

Not all banks needed bailing out. Not all auto manufacturers needed bailing out. (And many of us think that Crysler should have died decades ago.) Bailing out the ones who failed encourages bad practices and actively and unfairly punishes those who did not fail.

Maybe this is why Obama is hating on big business and corporations lately. Does he think that conservatives hate the big business and not the bailout?

Original Mike said...

Why do liberals think the citizenry is so weak minded?

Scott M said...

Why do liberals think the citizenry is so weak minded?

Because being a liberal requires a paternalistic cognitive dissonance that piggybacks on the belief that everyone wants to be like them...they just don't know how.

pduggie said...

is the idea that some group will air an ad favorable to a candidates campaign, and THEN send a lobbyist who will say

"Dude, we [put out that 2 hour movie about why your opponent was a puppy killer], now listen to our schpiel"

What is in the [brackets] has a dollar value. So its like a donation to a campaign?

t-man said...

Why does Matt think this has anything to do with giving money to candidates?

Matt, do you think the NYT is a "living breathing American"? If not, under your rules, newspapers should shut up too.

Scott M said...

Why do liberals think the citizenry is so weak minded?

Another thought. A contrast, if you will.

A conservative will say, "It's your money. You earned it. Now go spend it however you legally choose to do so."

A liberal will say (Bill Clinton Voice /activate) "Well, we would give the money back, but would you spend in the right way?"

...in other words, "you're too pathetic to figure out how to spend your own money, so we're going to relieve you of as much of it as we think we can get away with and give it to people that will keep us in power".

Matt said...

Synova
And these things are the same, how?

Because the very same groups you complain about are now given the right to control the process even more.
You are right. A company should be allowed to fail. But I'll take your view a bit further:
If a corporation or bank can become "too big to fail" in the private sector think what happens when it becomes "too big to fail" when it engages in political speech.
Do you think regular American citizens have as much a chance then?
We give them power to survive with our tax dollars and now they can begin to control the process to help only themselves.

Look, you may think I'm just a Liberal saying this but the precendent of contributions by corporations was set by Teddy Roosevelt who was hardly a liberal. So, yes, big corporations are a problem. They should be allowed to fail and they should not be allowed to influence federal elections.

joated said...

Pay attention to who's making the biggest noise against this decision.
First you've got the Big Press and MSM who have suddenly lost their monopoly on the peoples' ears and eyes. No longer can they freely manipulate the news by what they say and show (and what they don't) without the posibility of some group, either a corporation or a non-profit, rebutting. THis has them (press and MSM) running scared for they are no longer king makers. Thier power is stripped from them. Is it any wonder that the Times is aghast.

Second, you've got politicians and lobbiests (insiders if you will) who--as someone above pointed out--have been living la dolce vida on corporate cash that could only influence congress through the "proper" channels. Now corporations are free to go the people with their message and work via the air waves and print to influence the election of folks who see things their way. Still, the electorate would be doing the selection if they agree and not lobbiests or bribers. Good for the corporations and nonprofits. Not so good for the lobbiests or the bribees.

Crimso said...

"Some say I want to restrict free speech. And my answer is, Yes I want to restrict it to living breathing human beings we call the American citizens. Not to multinational corporation who care about nothing but profits."

And some living breathing human beings made a movie documentary about Hillary and it was banned from being shown within some number of days of the election. In arguing this case, the govt's attorney said that the FEC would have also banned a book published that had a single mention of a candidate's name in it (for any reason). Are you comfortable with that? We're not talking fat cat corps here, it could very well happen to a single writer, as it did indeed happen to a group of filmmakers.

OldGrouchy Doug Wright said...

Silly person, you are doubting the word of "The Won," and his minions who say that SCOTUS is demanding lobbyists be granted unfettered access. Please, stop belittling your betters and stop that nonsense.

wv: ardelse is afoot!

Matt said...

t-man
You misread my first comment. This is not about opinions. This is about money and power.
The First Amendment protects speech. You can interpret speech as money if you want. But in my view money is not speech.
Although, yes, you are correct. Corporations cannot give money directly to a candidate.

Scott M
You're a cynic who understand little about poltics. Or wait - maybe you understand everything about politics due to your cynicism. Good work. And, yes, you are correct. This ruling [by Conservative judges] will benefit Conservatives. Bravo.

SMGalbraith said...

This is not about opinions. This is about money and power.

Sorry, this is about political speech.

Not to be too simplistic but if a corporation published a book saying, "Vote for Smith", would you have that book banned?

You seem to be saying, "Yes."

We all - or least most of us, I think - recognize the danger of "wealthy" speech drowning out "poor" speech. But the solution of banning all of the speech by any corporate entity is just not allowed under the Constitution.

We'll have to find another way.

Synova said...

Matt... Complaining about the bailouts is not at all complaining about the "same group".

But how about these questions:

How big does a business have to be before it can't use its funds to "lobby" the public? How big does an organization have to be, before it can't speak? Or perhaps none can speak. Lawyers can not take out an ad to tell us how a new law would impact their profession? Insurance companies can't take out an ad to tell us why "no-fault" car insurance is good or bad? Doctors can't take out an ad explaining that John Edwards destroyed their lives?

What?

Or is it just a heartfelt belief on your part that corporations and large businesses are evil and they shouldn't be allowed to tell us that they are not evil?

Sure, I'm going on about Chavez a lot but show me one singular instance in the History of the World where a government pushing this sort of anti-liberalism anti-capitalism on behalf of "the people" has ended up doing something other than destroying their economy utterly.

No, watching Chavez doesn't make me happy any more than a feeling human being could contemplate Mugabe and be *happy*. Real people are destroyed by this anti-business anti-capitalist anti-corporate theology. Having a good motivation doesn't put food on people's plates, roofs over their heads, or hospitals in their cities. Telling the people that you will protect them against the greedy, money motivated corporations and businesses does not keep the lights on.

It never does. Not ever.

And we can watch it happen in real time, over and over, and people refuse to change their belief that anyone trying to make money is evil. It's like reality need not apply.

And now we're supposed to listen to the same thing in the context of our own country, willing to sacrifice freedom of speech in our own country, to limit it, to decide who can defend themselves to the people...

No.

Scott M said...

@Matt

So, you would rather this decision hadn't happened? You prefer to keep influence out of the public domain? I agree with Althouse on this one. At least if you're a corp that makes a movie, publishes a book, or takes out ads, they are out there, in full view, able to be repudiated or agreed with.

The lobbyist route leads to backroom deal and influence peddling in secrecy.

Backroom deals and influence peddling happen anyway, but with constraints like M/F put on us, only the lobbyists can participate.

For the record, I'm cynical about government's ability to accomplish much without abject waste and corruption. That makes me a conservative. At least you made some sense in your hurling of pejoratives.

Don't the wisest hold that once you make the argument personal, you've already lost the debate?

Opus One Media said...

The Ghost said...
"you just described collusion, which is against the law ...

and if they do it legal, under the new rules we will all know who paid for those ads ... think that might give some corporations pause ? I do ..."


it didn't stop anyone before the law was passed. it stopped collusion to an extent when the law was passed and if i read it write we are back to the good old days.

it is much like the idiot bankers screaming about regulation and promising they won't do it again so trust them and then they get hauled before congress and they were clueless.

and what of a private corporation with no stockholder accountability, just the way for the owner to avoid the indvidual cap?

and were in the freedom of speech verbage in the constitution is there a reference to corporations having the right..or am i mistaken to think that they don't vote, exist only as things and aren't a human being?

Synova said...

The ruling majority opinion was that the right to free speech was centered in speech and not the speaker.

Also, the first amendment specifically mentions the press, which isn't saying "corporation" but I think that the press and publishing wasn't the domain of individuals even then, and specifically mentions religion which even then included the largest organizations in the world.

SMGalbraith said...

were in the freedom of speech verbage in the constitution is there a reference to corporations having the right

Are you arguing that if the speech is created/funded by a corporation that that speech is not protected?

So, a film made by a movie studio isn't protected?

Or the NY Times, a corporation, doesn't have free speech rights?

It seems to me that the "corporations" don't have Constitutional rights argument isn't very persuasive.

knox said...

But this ruling really takes it out of our realm and right into the corporate's lap.

Matt, in the last year, even before this ruling, the government has bailed out Big Banks and Big Auto. And ObamaCare is precisely written to benefit unions.

So your argument that corporations (and unions, whose power you condemned only when it was pointed out) *now* have some sort of untoward power over our elected officials is a little weak.

This administration came in promising to change all the things you're complaining about, but has catered more to Big Business--in ways that even conservatives don't like!!-- than any I can think of.

Your outrage at this ruling rings false.

edutcher said...

Matt said...

Conservatives get angry when Wall Street and Banks get bailouts. But they have no problem when Wall Street and Corporations get a free pass to put money into campaigns and completely control the election process.

Conservatives dislike bailouts because public funds are involved; in the case of the auto companies, to pay off union support in political campaigns. As for a free pass, there are still laws on the books regarding improper purchasing of influence.

Some say I want to restrict free speech. And my answer is, Yes I want to restrict it to living breathing human beings we call the American citizens. Not to multinational corporation who care about nothing but profits.

Again, as opposed to pressure groups (which are composed of "living breathing human beings") like Media Matters, so multinational individuals (the name Soros ring a bell?) can do the same thing. I get the distinct impression this boils down to which
"living breathing human beings" (we seem to be hearing that phrase a great deal today from the usual suspects) are allowed to make their speech heard.

The First Amendment protects speech. You can interpret speech as money if you want. But in my view money is not speech.

Ever hear the expression, "money talks"?

garage mahal said...

From now we need to be talking of corporations merging as a "marriage", a firing be called a "divorce", and if they should go bankrupt, we should hold a "funeral". In the casket will be the charter papers of the corporation that we stand in line to give condolences. Sounds absurd, but corporations are people.

I wonder if we can just put our representatives all on Ebay for highest bid, and let the free markets determine elections.

KLDAVIS said...

Could it be that the decision turns the concept of lobbying on its ear? Instead of showering our representatives with gifts and taking them on junkets to get their corporate clients the laws they way, the new crop of lobbyists will essentially blackmail the congress by threatening to have their corporate clients unleash a torrent of attack ads during the reps next election cycle?

Matt said...

Synova
You're view is so much more radical than mine.
Corporations already control most of our thought. [Yours too]. This just adds one more layer to the mix. How that is a good thing I'll let you decide. Corporations are not evil. But they have far more influence than you or I [or a group of us] will ever have. Do you understand that? Does that not trouble you just, maybe, a little? Goodness. [BTW I'm not asking for communism here.]

Scott M
You're two comments are hardly 'friendly' toward liberal views. You're hurling a few zingers too.
It's not that I don't want influence to be in the public domain. I sort of would like that too. I mean we should make the politicians wear uniforms like NASCAR drivers so we can see exactly who it is who pays for them.
But this doesn't hurt lobbyists. Read the headline. It says 'Supreme Court handed lobbyists a new weapon'.
Now front room deals can legally join back room deals.

Crimso
I agree limiting a filmmaker or a writer to not have an opinion is troubling. But the ruling is not really about a 'filmmaker' or a 'writer'. It is about the entity that would release the propaganda onto the airwaves to influence voters. A specific reading of the case would seem to be little else. But the precedent it sets is not a pretty one because it opens a can of worms.

SMGalbraith said...

Your outrage at this ruling rings false.

I agree with the decision but it seems to we have to recognize the potential here for "wealthy" speech to drown out "less wealthy" speech.

And the "wealthy speakers" will, at the very least, have more influence directly or indirectly in our political process. Not to mention their ability to influence legislation by promising pro-political ads for those congressman voting for their interests.

That's inevitable. It is.

It may not all be bad but the potential for corruption has been increased.

But the solution is not to suppress this speech. As Madison said, let faction counter faction. Even if some factions are better at the game than others.

Comrade X said...

Corporations already control most of our thought.


is that an original thought or did a corporation implant it?

Kirk Parker said...

"Corporations already control most of our thought. [Yours too]. "

Speak for yourself! As for me, I'm very sad you've let them do that to you... but I have no intention of following suit.

Paul Zrimsek said...

is that an original thought or did a corporation implant it?

It was Noam Chomsky's publisher. Shut 'em down!

garage mahal said...

Sure, I'm going on about Chavez a lot but show me one singular instance in the History of the World where a government pushing this sort of anti-liberalism on behalf of "the people" has ended up doing something other than destroying their economy utterly.

How would you feel about Chavez and CITGO pumping billions in oil profits into our elections? If we denied him, would that be infringing on his free speech? Anti-capitalism, and anti-liberalism?

Synova said...

"Corporations are not evil. But they have far more influence than you or I [or a group of us] will ever have. Do you understand that? Does that not trouble you just, maybe, a little? Goodness."

It doesn't bother me as much as the proposed solution that involves government (which is also not "the people") watching my back for me. I don't have to trust one and not trust the other. I can distrust them both.

And although Justice Thomas disagreed with the majority opinion about the acceptability of laws requiring disclosure, I think that will do a better job of protecting people to inform people of who is paying for the message than trying to block the message altogether.

The New York Times is a corporation. Publishers are businesses and corporations. Some of them are huge. Hollywood is huge. And at some level I thought we understood that the freedom to speak was fundamentally important to liberty and not just some strange American whim. Was Avatar not a political movie? Did it not have a political message?

We ought to value the bedrock supports to freedom and uphold the right of anyone to spend $300 million dollars on a political statement, and I'll get my mouse's voice warmed up and tell anyone why Avatar's message was stupid or even harmful in the way it supports efforts to defeat neo-liberalism in developing nations.

And maybe it won't do a whole lot of good, but I'm not the only mouse.

Comrade X said...

it's already been done gm. remember the heating oil for dem districts?

Sofa King said...

But the ruling is not really about a 'filmmaker' or a 'writer'.

How's that? The case was specifically about a film about Hillary Clinton.

Corporations are not evil. But they have far more influence than you or I [or a group of us] will ever have. Do you understand that? Does that not trouble you just, maybe, a little?

From whence comes this power? A corporation is, after all, nothing more than a group of people acting as a legal collective. It seems to me what you are really railing against is the inequality in wealth. But that inequality is just as large among individuals as it is among corporations. I guess I don't understand the specific objection to people speaking collectively. The amount of wealth they can dedicate toward speech is, as with individuals, going to be roughly proportionate to the value they provide to society.

Honestly, I think what has liberals so upset about this ruling is not so much the fact that corporations can spend money on speech, it's that this is a step backwards from their ultimate goal of replacing freedom of speech with equality of speech. I think that many of them really were hoping that the next step would be to ban independent expenditures of individuals, too, so that being a wealthy person conferred no additional power to spread a message. So to me, all the crying about the First Amendment being only for people rings a little hollow.

Synova said...

"How would you feel about Chavez and CITGO pumping billions in oil profits into our elections? If we denied him, would that be infringing on his free speech? Anti-capitalism, and anti-liberalism?"

I realize you only changed the subject because you can't think of a single instance in the History of the World where anti-capitalism and anti-liberalism didn't destroy the economy and plunge the people into generations of misery.

But I'll answer you.

I'm not the least worried about Chavez taking his message to the US political system and paying for it with billions of oil dollars. I'd be horrified for the pain of people in his country who could probably use reliable electric service or something else that money should have been used for but in the end, garage, Chavez doesn't have to spend any money at all to get his anti-liberal, anti-capitalist message to the American people.

You're all doing it for him.

For free.

Jason (the commenter) said...

No one cared about this court case last week. I think the progressives (liberals) are making a big deal out of it now because they want something (anything) to take people's minds off the Brown victory and the death of health care reform.

I also find it ridiculous that they try to make this sound like a Republican victory, since the name of the bill involved starts with "McCain", and because Obama was so heavily favored by business during the last elections.

Matt said...

Synova
Interesting about Avatar. It's definitely anti-Bush and can be read as Anti-American.

I think the answer to this whole argument, in some ways, is that most people don't really pay attention to the opinions of Hollywood. And so maybe people won't pay attention to campaign ads by Corporations.

That said, Obama got the most money from Unions and Corporations in the last cycle. So I'm not just tooting my horn because I'm liberal - because this could be a good thing for him too. I just see problems with big money influencing elections. But then again a year after Obama's election we are still in Iraq, deeper in Afghanistan and no health care bill. And the bailout started by Bush still remains.

Is Bush still president? Now my cynicism is showing.

knox said...

It may not all be bad but the potential for corruption has been increased.

Because corporations can now sponsor ads?

This whole argument smacks of "People aren't smart enough to see through the BS and decide on an issue for themselves." I disagree.

This is the same viewpoint that Political Correctness is based upon; that some speech is unacceptable and must be suppressed. Except that it always depends more on the source of the speech, rather than what was actually said.

Some people want to shut up their opponents, and they'll try to figure out any way to make the First Amendment not count for them.

I acknowledge that you agree with the ruling, but the rest of your argument I don't get.

Roger J. said...

Corporations control our thoughts---really, Matt--if you believe that you probably believe John Kenneth Galbrath about advertisers. Are you suggesting that you are not a free agent and can believe what you want to? That you are so unable to formulate your own value system that you are manipulated by corporations? which corporations control our thoughts, and how do they do it? Which corporation convinced me that I should be a libertarian?

If you honestly belive that you have my sympathies.

knox said...

I mean we should make the politicians wear uniforms like NASCAR drivers so we can see exactly who it is who pays for them.

Second time this has showed up on this blog. Did Jon Stewart say this earlier this week or something?

Synova said...

"Interesting about Avatar. It's definitely anti-Bush and can be read as Anti-American."

I talked to a guy from Denmark who said that because so many movies are American and therefore the villains are also always American that he and his friends didn't look at it that way at all. That made sense to me.

The reason I brought up Avatar in this conversation, though is because it also has an extremely strong anti-capitalist message. One of the comments at Big Hollywood was a long rant starting with "You liberals make me sick!"

"Liberals" in that case being used in the broader global sense of the word to mean those who favor liberalizing markets and economies.

$300 million to send that message around the world.

Synova said...

In any case.

As much as I dislike the message and as much as I think it is actively harmful, I do not want our government involved in deciding if it is a message that needs to be controlled or not.

William said...

All my life Coke has been lobbying me to drink Coca Cola. All my life I have been drinking water. I do not have any huge reserves of will power. I happen to think that water is a better choice and act accordingly. Advertising is so blatant that all consumers over time develop an ability to filter it out. Advertising is a charged particle in the zeitgeist but not the determining factor. Judging by the diminishing sales of soft drinks, I would say that the lobbying of health enthusiasts against Coca Cola has been more effective than the ads for Coke. People are smarter than liberals give them credit for.

Roger J. said...

what Willliam said--on the other hand the beer lobby has totally enslaved me-but thats another story

SMGalbraith said...

Because corporations can now sponsor ads?

No, because corporations can get around campaign laws limiting direct donations by paying for ads favorable to a legislator who does their bidding.

The potential is there.

Again, I'm against the "solution" that the left advocates.

rhhardin said...

They're using lobbyist to mean representative of an organization, which is the soap opera sense.

Matt said...

Roger J.
I should clarify. It is not that corporations control our thoughts like a plot from some science fiction novel. It is, instead, that they so inform our decision making process that more people than not are influenced heavily by corporations, advertising and marketing. Some claim they disagree with that and make decisions based on peers and friends. But most likely those peers and friends are influenced somewhere along the line by advertising and marketing. And the lion share of such advertising flows from the biggest corporations.

Anyway, note that Synova feels AVATAR sends a bad message around the world. If corporate marketing didn't have an influence she would not think that the movie was anything but Blue people fighting White people on some mythic planet. But people are going to the film in droves not because it is a good movie but because the marketing machine is in overdrive making it an event that everyone needs to see. [3D adds an element I'll admit].

If you have not seen AVATAR yet and instead went to a small independent or foerign language films over the Holiday season then I applaud you.

raf said...

I have never understood why people who so strongly distrust large human organizations called "corporations" can have such faith in even larger human organizations called "government." If "evil" people desiring only to exploit others have corporations taken away from them, do you not think these same people will focus on taking over governments? Just look around.

wv: ovendown. I didn't even know they had feathers.

mccullough said...

There are more federal lobbyists now than when W. was president.

If you want to cut down on lobbyists, stop making so many laws.

And check out the White House visitor logs since Obama moved in. GE's worthless, rent-seeking CEO and the head of the SEIU are at the White House all the time.

These guys aren't Jehovah's Witnesses knocking on the door, Obama fucking invited them.

Obama loves special interests, he just doesn't like the Chamber of Commerce because it opposes some of his plans. He's a whiner.

rhhardin said...

“We have got a million we can spend advertising for you or against you — whichever one you want,’ ” a lobbyist can tell lawmakers

That just hands the politician a weapon, namely revealing that.

That won't be great for the corporation's PR.

Cedarford said...

Well-stated -

As Justice Anthony Kennedy noted in his opinion, the McCain-Feingold "campaign finance" law--which until yesterday's ruling made it a felony for corporations to engage in certain political speech--exempted "media companies" like the New York Times Co. (and News Corp., publisher of The Wall Street Journal and this Web site) from this restriction.

McCain-Feingold, in other words, granted a small group of companies, including the New York Times Co., the privilege to speak freely about politics, while denying it to all other corporations--not only "companies . . . that exist to make money," but also taxable nonprofits that exist to represent a point of view, including the advocacy arms of the Sierra Club, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Rifle Association.

The editorial published by the New York Times Co. includes no mention of the special privilege the New York Times Co. enjoyed under McCain-Feingold--a privilege that creates at least the appearance of a journalistic conflict of interest.

SMGalbraith said...

Swell. Keith Olbermann (yeah, stay with me for a second) just called noted free speech scholar Floyd Abrams, who supports the recent decision, a Nazi sympathizer for those view.

At some point - and it's fast approaching - MSNBC will have to decide whether they want to continue to employ this crank.

Kirk Parker said...

raf,

It's an inscrutable mystery to me, too. (Another one of comparable mystery is the horrible "race to the bottom" that state legislatures are supposed to be always engaged in. Yet these same folks, once they move up a level and get elected to Congress, suddenly have our best interests at heart. WTF??!!?!?)

Maguro said...

“We have got a million we can spend advertising for you or against you — whichever one you want,’ ” a lobbyist can tell lawmakers....

As the lobbyist delivers this threat, he slowly raises his pinky finger to the corner of his mouth and laughs diabolically.

Or so I've been told.

garage mahal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
garage mahal said...

You're all doing it for him.

For free.


eh, you openly admitted it's preferable to you to extend constitutional rights of free speech to Hugo effing Chavez influence elections here in the U.S., not me, sister. You, conservatives, and Chavez are all in agreement in your harsh criticisms of Obama, and of our government. Roll that one around in your head.

Synova said...

Yes, garage. I'm not afraid of speech. Nor can you make me afraid of speech by bringing up a boogy-man.

I'm not afraid of Chavez, I'm not afraid of Cameron, I'm disgusted, but not afraid of Robert Mugabe speaking at the Copenhagen summit.

But I will defend my right to speak against all of those people even if it means also defending the right of speech with which I disagree. I'll defend my right to opinions that are offensive. I'll defend my right to opinions that are out of fashion. I'll defend my right to speak against the darlings of the left, and my own government.

Do you actually have a problem with that?

Or do you decide the stand to take on something as bedrock to liberty and liberalism as free speech by figuring out what I think and then taking the opposite side?

vnjagvet said...

Corporations can have some rights. However, they are not entitled to the protections of the Constitution.

Not even the right to due process of law? How about the right to be free from illegal searches or seizures?

SMGalbraith said...

Corporations can have some rights. However, they are not entitled to the protections of the Constitution.

So, Bush could have had the NY Times shut down after they published classified information?

Synova said...

"So, Bush could have had the NY Times shut down after they published classified information?"

LOL!

Oh, that's fabulous. Love it.

But hey, corporations don't have Constitutional Rights. I'm sure that's true, I just heard someone say so.

SMGalbraith said...

to extend constitutional rights of free speech to Hugo effing Chavez

As opposed to giving full constitutional rights to Islamic terrorists who wish to slaughter us?

You really want to go down this path?

Synova said...

"eh, you openly admitted it's preferable to you to extend constitutional rights of free speech to Hugo effing Chavez influence elections here in the U.S., not me, sister."

It's a false dilemma, but yes, I admit that I would prefer to give Hugo effing Chavez the right to speak in the United States if that is what is necessary to have free speech than means anything at all. I would vastly prefer to endure speech I find abhorrent than to allow freedom of speech to be weakened or redefined.

I have no idea why you think that's some sort of "gotcha". You've been pushing for it since yesterday so you must really think it's a fabulous "gotcha" to get.

Yes, garage. I WILL defend speech I don't like, that I think is bad, spoken by people who are evil.

That is what free speech means.

Nothing less.

MadisonMan said...

I can't say I'm a big fan of Corporations controlled by, say, foreign Governments being able to funnel money freely (so to speak) into the election process.

I would like to know about it. I love fls's idea of having all the company names embroidered onto a Congressman's (gender neutral there) clothing.

But I'd really like a law mandating full exposure of donations. Each candidate's web page can have a link to the database, sortable by donation size, donation source, etc. That way you at least know who is trying to buy your legislator.

Chance of a legislative body passing such a thing? Not big.

SMGalbraith said...

Y'know, if corporations don't have any rights I sure wish someone would go take Frank Rich's computer/word processor.

Just grab it. Since they don't have any rights, the Times can't do anything.

And besides, think of the great service you'll do by preventing Rich from producing more bilge.

Synova said...

"But I'd really like a law mandating full exposure of donations."

Or donations over a certain size listed with some privacy protection for individuals... record and crunch the numbers so that a single entity can't donate random amounts between a set high and low over and over, so that it can be audited, but don't make individual's small (personal level) donations publicly linked to names.

There are laws requiring campaigns to declare their donations and checks on that, it shouldn't be that big a deal to figure out something sane.

There were a couple of cases of candidates returning donations from sources that would turn off voters in recent years. There's no reason to think that wouldn't be the norm.

exhelodrvr1 said...

garbage mall,
You, liberals, and Chavez are all in agreement in your harsh criticisms of Bush, and of our government. Roll that one around in your head.

OldGrouchy Doug Wright said...

McCain/Feingold didn't address transparency of funding / contributions, wonder why?????

Revenant said...

But I'd really like a law mandating full exposure of donations

There are millions of Americans whose jobs and careers would suffer if their political affiliations were known.

A better (but still flawed) idea would be to require that donations be completely anonymous. You can't bribe a person if you can't prove you're the one writing the check.

Revenant said...

I can't say I'm a big fan of Corporations controlled by, say, foreign Governments being able to funnel money freely (so to speak) into the election process.

They already could, and did, do that. They just had to do it indirectly -- which made it harder to trace the influence back to the influencing corporation. Corporations that wish to hide their influence will continue to do things that way.

OldGrouchy Doug Wright said...

"There are millions of Americans whose jobs and careers would suffer if their political affiliations were known."

Ok, then set a small cap on disclosure, say $x dollars total for a campaign or ad and anything over the names would be public. Big donors might be strong enough to fend off exposure / revenge and so what if that's present. We need to have the courage of our convictions or we'll collectively go down the toilet.

MadisonMan said...

A better (but still flawed) idea would be to require that donations be completely anonymous.

I like this idea and will serve as the clearinghouse for all donations exceeding $100K. My fee will be quite reasonable.

Revenant said...

We need to have the courage of our convictions or we'll collectively go down the toilet.

I would observe that after decades of trying to "improve" our democracy by restricting how and when people can participate in the political process, the quality of our democracy is worse off than it was when we started.

So I do have the courage of my convictions, because I'm convinced that the War on Political Corruption is as ill-advised as the War on Drugs, and as likely to be won.

Kirk Parker said...

SMGalbraith,

"think of the great service you'll do by preventing Rich from producing more bilge"

No, it's better the way it is. Think of the catastrophic explosion that would result if Rich tried to keep it all inside. (Hey, I think we've just invented the non-radiological dirty bomb.)

Nomilk said...

Hey, Althouse, Black's is up to the ninth edition. You want to get with it?

Revenant said...

Hey, Althouse, Black's is up to the ninth edition. You want to get with it?

Yeah, 1990 was a long time ago. You can't even watch a movie from back then without subtitles -- the language has changed so much.

Synova said...

"So I do have the courage of my convictions, because I'm convinced that the War on Political Corruption is as ill-advised as the War on Drugs, and as likely to be won."

Not won, human nature being what it is. Opposed, certainly, in the ongoing war of ideas.

I think that what is best about our system of government, with capitalism and with free markets, with an almost painful adherence to individual freedom and liberty... is that we end up with something robust and flexible enough to work well in the context of human nature.

The harder we try to tie down every little thing the more brittle it all becomes.

Omaha1 said...

" it will be kind of ridiculous if you are The New York Times."

"And you, President Obama, a law professor!"

Althouse, I salute your brilliance today! When current events intersect with your constitutional expertise, your blogging is really outstanding. Thanks for the enlightening posts.

Roger J. said...

Matt--thanks for a reasoned response to my query--I suspect you and I may disagree on policy, but I genuinely appreciate a person who can argue their positions withouot resorting to vituperation--I look forward to debating other issues with you. Appreciate your postings here. Look forward to continued debate.

Opus One Media said...

Robert Cook said...
The level of know-nothingism here is astonishing and dismaying, Opus One Media and Matt being the exceptions."

thanks Robert....I try and read before I post instead of the myriad of ready-fire-aims.

kentuckyliz said...

actually, they are saying lobbying when they mean electioneering.

kentuckyliz said...

The answer to offensive speech is more speech.

You'd think leftards would be delighted--this gives them a lot of freedom to electioneer through like-minded corporations. Bigger pockets and not all tied to Soros.

Jason said...

Today's liberals wouldn't recognize true liberalism if it bit them on the ass and wore a name tag.

Almost Ali said...

Not a word about the wise Latina woman, who leaped at her first real chance to uphold the omniscience of government.

frogg said...

Ms. Althouse, Clearly, based on your blog post update, your initial analysis was way off base! Am a little bit surprised since the quote you refer to at the end of your blog post is in the *second* paragraph of the NYT article ..