Wednesday, June 20, 2012

SCOTUS: Citizens United Sucks

1. Money is not speech.  It's not even close to speech.  
And there's no way you can convince me that the Framers intended for corporations or individual rich people to buy elections through massive spending to monopolize public media.  

2. I am a free speech girl.  I wholeheartedly believe what my Civil Liberties teacher told me in high school, that the cure for bad or hate speech is more speech.  Just a whole lot of speech.  Because when there is a whole lot of speech, you can tell how in-the-minority bad and hate speech is.  And you have a plethora of opinions and ideas (and hopefully a few facts) to hear and digest and consider when formulating your own opinions.  This is why although I'm not wild about FOX News, I think it's okay that it exists - as long as there are other equally opinionated options that people can (and hopefully do) watch alongside.  I do have a problem with FOX claiming to be unbiased or "news" when they put out a lot of un-fact-checked opinion, but that's a different matter.

3. But one of America's enduring challenges is the disparity of power between the wealthy and the rest of the people.  One of the dangers with capitalism is that people will believe that money conveys greater worth on the people who have it.  That's a pretty undemocratic idea.  Democracy is based on the concept of a social contract and the value, freedom, and importance of each person.  That's "person" in the non-corporate sense, btw.  This derives from the concept of a basic equality of worth that was not the established theory in governance at the time of our Revolution.  And while we are technically a democratic republic, the same theory holds.  Often times in our society, the theory of equality has come before the political will has existed to carry-out the reality: see, e.g. the history of the vote in the U.S. - in theory, we supported universal voting for adults from the start, in reality, we couldn't get it done until technically 1920 (many would argue we still struggle with it today).  

4. But this struggle is important, and it is the basis for most of the progress we have made as a people.  

  • Our diversity - our melting pot or salad bowl of different cultures, races, religions, and ideas coexisting - mostly peacefully - in the most diverse democracy in the world; 
  • Our spirit of invention - the fearlessness with which we attack new problems and try new things; and  
  • Our fundamental rebelliousness against autocracy and bullies - or what the rest of the world sometimes sees as our attitude problem... 

...they were born of an old-school liberal belief in equality and against the theory that some people are more important or inherently better than others.  

That's why so many people want to come here, and also why so many people want to make us submit to some authoritarian religion or worldview.  We don't take well to authority.  Sometimes we knee-jerk against all authority, and that can lead to problems... But -   

5. The essence of our American Spirit is born of egalitarianism.

6. Which is why I am so utterly offended at Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, and the absurd concept that if you have more money, you should be able to buy more of an audience for your speech.  This is especially offensive to me if the "person" you are talking about is a corporation.  Corporations are not people.  Yes, in theory, there are reasons to create a corporate person, for example, to find ways to punish people who do bad things using the veil of a corporation to protect against individual liability (and avoiding individual liability was really the idea behind a corporation as a legal concept).  But I think on the whole, that there are other ways to arrive at the same conclusion, legally, without imbuing inanimate objects with unalienable rights.  

But let me back up.  Here is a very good summary of the issue behind the Citizens United decision: 
Imagine a presidential debate in which the candidates were invited to buy debate time. Instead of the debate time being allocated equally, each candidate would bid for minutes, so the candidate with the most money would buy the most minutes in the debate. What would we think of that? That is effectively what has happened to our political system. This is a disaster for our nation. It alienates voters, enables a coterie of highly-self-interested millionaires and corporations to distort our national political discourse, and causes elected officials desperately to curry favor with wealthy supporters, often at the expense of the public interest.
The current state of affairs is due largely to two decisions of the United States Supreme Court -- Buckley v. Valeo (1976) and Citizens United (2010) -- in which the Court held that government cannot constitutionally limit the amount of money that individuals (Buckley) or corporations (Citizens United) can spend in the "marketplace of ideas" to bring about the election of their favored political candidates. As a consequence of the doctrines set forth in those two decisions, the Court has invalidated a host of federal and state laws enacted by American citizens across the nation in the hope of stemming the tide of political dollars.

Here's the other side's argument.

7. So what's the problem with people spending their own money to buy political ads?  The problem is that in a world in which commercial television is still the dominant form of political communication, there are a limited number of venues for "free" speech, and "paid-for" speech is available in larger quantities and only for those who have the money to buy it.  So if we want "free" speech in elections, we have to limit or eliminate "paid-for" speech, unless we want money to be the determining factor in which political candidates' speech gets heard by the voters.

Now I'm going to really piss off my conservative friends, but not for fun, I really think this conversation is important: 

8. If what we want is a country in which the amount of money a candidate was born with does not matter, in which our elected representatives actually represent the people who elect them instead of the people who contribute great sums of money to their campaigns or the SuperPACs that support them (largely by opposing their opponents), we need to level the playing field in our political system.  And since the main use of political advertising funds is television, the problem is that political speech on television costs money.  

  • We could increase the amount of time television stations must give, free, to candidates before elections (since after all, the licenses are federally-controlled).  
  • We could greatly limit the time-frame of the elections like the Brits do.  
  • We could allow groups and corporations to have their own free-time, though that could get really messy and complicated.  

But this is a problem.  It is a problem we are not addressing adequately.  It is a problem we barely discuss.  And if you feel like you are poorly represented by your democratically-elected government, the need for/use of money in political advertising is an important part of why that happens.

9. In the long run, the television part of this conversation may become a moot issue, because as the ways we watch television change (many channels, DVRs, watching via internet), the medium itself loses its hegemony.  But right now, we are a TV-watching country, and the surest way to present information or speech to Americans is through their TVs.

10. And finally, from a SCOTUS perspective, the most disturbing thing about Citizens United is that according to Jeffrey Toobin, CJ Roberts engineered the decision.  

11.  This, btw, is a great video connecting the dots between Buckley v. Valeo and Citizens United, and while I disagree with the narrator/creator of the video that what he calls the slogan "money = speech" does not matter, he and I arrive at the same result, which is that money = speech as a theory prevents additional candidates from being able to run and be heard.  Which is to say: the problem is not necessarily the amount of money that is being spent right now (though this is pretty obscene), but the fact that there is a minimum threshold of money for any candidate to have a chance to be heard or be elected.


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