Are Corporations “Persons” with Free Speech Rights?

Yesterday we touched on corporate (and other) bribery of public servants – primarily legislators. What started the discussion was the recent Supreme Court ruling to overturn a good bit of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. Opponents of the ruling will claim that it opens the floodgates for more corporate intervention in elections – and they may well be right. Now, I don’t want to rehash the discussion from yesterday, but I will sum up by saying that the ultimate responsibility to not take bribes lies with the politician, not the corporation.

What we want to get at tonight is the nature of the counter argument. Opponents will say that corporations do not have the same free speech rights as individuals, or that they must in some way define their intent to participate in such free speech in the articles of their incorporation. I might agree with this, but I want to make a few points first.

First, as long as governments are radically and aggressively intervening in the business of corporations, then corporations aught to have full right to participate in the political process. It has to be a two way street.

Second, we need to get to the root of the “articles of incorporation” argument. If corporations can be banned from political speech unless their articles of incorporation expressly indicate an intent to participate in freedom of speech, then we assume that activities (or powers) not specifically laid out in the articles of incorporation are not valid activities. If this is true, then we must assume the opponents of the ruling are strict constructionists with regard to the constitution. The federal government participates in a great number of activities, or exercises a great number of powers that are not given it in the constitution … the articles of incorporation for the citizenry.

I suspect this is not the case though. I suspect those that oppose the ruling are anything but constructionists. They are quite happy to have the federal government move well outside its bounds. They just don’t want individuals, or corporations of individuals to do so. So I offer a trade (as if I have the power to offer it). Let us remove federal intervention in the free practice of business activities (i.e., the practice that does not expressly violate the human rights of others). Let us agree that the federal government MUST adhere to its limited powers defined in the constitution. If we can do those things, then I will gladly agree to limits on corporate free speech that are outside of their articles of incorporation.

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