Archive | Restrictions on Campaign Contrbs. and Expenses

“Reconsidering Citizens United as a Press Clause Case”

An excellent new Yale Law Journal article by Stanford Prof. Michael McConnell. The abstract:

The central flaw in the analysis of Citizens United by both the majority and the dissent was to treat it as a free speech case rather than a free press case. The right of a group to write and disseminate a documentary film criticizing a candidate for public office falls within the core of the freedom of the press. It is not constitutional for the government to punish the dissemination of such a documentary by a media corporation, and it therefore follows that it cannot be constitutional to punish its dissemination by a non-media corporation like Citizens United unless the freedom of the press is confined to the institutional media. Precedent, history, and pragmatics all refute the idea that freedom of the press is so confined.

The result in Citizens United was therefore almost uncontrovertibly correct. No one disputes that corporations, such as the New York Times Company, can editorialize during an election, and other groups performing the press function have the same right, even if they are not part of the traditional news media industry. A holding based on the Press Clause, though, would not have implied any change in constitutional doctrine about campaign contributions, which are not an exercise of the freedom of the press.

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Does the original meaning of the First Amendment protect a right of privacy in campaign contributions?

My Independence Institute colleague Rob Natelson examines the question from an originalist perspective, in a new working paper published on SSRN. His analysis is summarized in this blog post on his website. In brief: political contributions are best analyzed as a form of Freedom of the Press. The Freedom of the Press includes the right to anonymous authorship. The right can be breached in cases of abuse, as when a civil libel plaintiff needs to discover the identity of the person who libeled him.

Some readers may disagree with the first part of Rob’s analysis, but the point about the right to exercise the Freedom of the Press anonymously seems indisputably correct. Rob extends the anonymity argument far beyond the points made by Justice Thomas in his Citizens United concurrence. […]

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Is Money Speech?

The Federalist Society just released a 2½-minute video I wrote and narrated on this subject. (The video is part of a new Federalist Society project, and will likely be the first of many.) Many thanks to Ozymandias Media for its design work, and to Lee Otis, Tyler Lowe, and my coblogger Nick Rosenkranz for all their help. If you like it, please pass it along to others who you think might be interested.

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Corsi’s Life of Political Crime

If you want to get together with friends to talk about politics, hear speakers on policy issues, and perhaps create a website promoting policy ideas, do you need to register as a political actin committee even if you don’t endorse candidates or get involved in elections?  In Ohio the answer can be “yes,” as Ed Corsi discovered after he set up the “Geauga Constitutional Council.”  Although Corsi only spent several hundred per year on the Council, the Ohio Elections Commission concluded it was required to register and report on its activities, and this conclusion was upheld in Ohio courts.  Now Corsi is seeking Supreme Court review, aided by the Center for Competitive Politics.

In yesterday’s WSJ CCP Chairman and former Federal Election Commission Chair Bradley Smith wrote about the potential significance of the case:

It is inconceivable, however, that America’s founders thought the First Amendment would allow the government to routinely require citizens to report their political activity, and be subjected to  . . . complex regulations. They wanted to prevent government from doing precisely this sort of thing. Yet Mr. Corsi lost in state court. Now he waits to see if the Supreme Court will agree to hear his case.

The “big money” in politics can afford the accountants, consultants and lawyers needed to cope with campaign- finance law. The burdens frequently fall more heavily on grass-roots politics—the very thing we ought to be encouraging. There also is abundant anecdotal evidence that the main result, if not the purpose, of campaign-finance laws is to allow political insiders and government officials to harass grass-roots activists. . . .

In Buckley v. Valeo (1976), and again in Federal Election Commission v. Massachusetts Citizens for Life (1986), the Supreme Court held that the regulatory requirements of operating a political action committee

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Corporate Speech Restrictions as “Protection” for Shareholders

One argument for restricting election-related speech by corporations is that it’s necessary to “protect” shareholders from having their money used to support candidates (or ballot measures) of which they disapprove. Many shareholders, the argument goes, might find it hard to sell their stock in corporations that express such support; indeed, they might find it hard to avoid buying such stock, for instance if the investment is made by their pension fund. And shareholders should be protected from such use of what is, after all, their money. Here’s Justice White expressing this view in First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti (where he was arguing in favor of a restriction on corporate expenditures supporting or opposing ballot measures):

[A]n additional overriding interest … is [also] substantially advanced by Massachusetts’ restrictions …: assuring that shareholders are not compelled to support and financially further beliefs with which they disagree where, as is the case here, the issue involved does not materially affect the business, property, or other affairs of the corporation…. [This policy] protects the very freedoms that this Court has held to be guaranteed by the First Amendment…. [I]n Abood v. Detroit Board of Ed., we … held that a State may not, even indirectly, require an individual to contribute to the support of an ideological cause he may oppose as a condition of employment….

In most contexts, of course, the views of the dissenting shareholder have little, if any, First Amendment significance. By purchasing interests in corporations shareholders accept the fact that corporations are going to make decisions concerning matters such as advertising integrally related to their business operations according to the procedures set forth in their charters and bylaws. Otherwise, corporations could not function.

First Amendment concerns of stockholders are directly implicated, however, when a corporation chooses to use

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Sens. Tester & Murphy’s Constitutional Amendment Would Strip Rights from Corporate-Owned Newspapers, Advocacy Groups, Etc.

The Lachlan Markay (Washington Free Beacon) reports on the Tester/Murphy amendment, which would provide:

Section 1. We the people who ordain and establish this Constitution intend the rights protected by this constitution to be the rights of natural persons.

Section 2. The words people, person, or citizen as used in this Constitution do not include corporations, limited liability companies or other corporate entities established by the laws of any State, the United States, or any foreign state, and such corporate entities are subject to such regulation as the people, through their elected State and Federal representatives, deem reasonable and are otherwise consistent with the powers of Congress and the States under this Constitution.

Section 3. Nothing contained herein shall be construed to limit the people’s rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, free exercise of religion, freedom of association and all such other rights of the people, which rights are unalienable.

The proposed amendment would authorize Congress, states, and local governments to, for instance, (1) restrict what most newspapers publish, (2) restrict what most advocacy groups, such as the ACLU, the Sierra Club, and the NRA, say, (3) restrict what is said and done by most churches, and (4) seize the property of corporations without just compensation. (It might also allow restrictions on the speech of unions, depending on whether they are seen as “corporate entities.”)

Nearly all major newspapers and magazines are owned by corporations; the same is true of book publishers, movie studios, record labels, and broadcasters. Indeed, if you want such entities to be able to raise money for their operations through the stock market, you have to have them be organized as corporations. Likewise, most nonprofit organizations are organized as corporations — that, too, makes sense, since it makes sense to have the […]

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Citizens United and the Fall of the Roman Republic

In a recent Slate article, Rob Goodman and Jimmy Soni claim that the history of the fall of the Roman Republic strengthens the case against the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, which ruled that the First Amendment protects corporate and union political speech against restriction by government. The influence of money in politics, they claim, was what brought down the Republic. Dubious analogies between the modern US and ancient Rome are all too common. This one has two serious flaws: the problematic use of money in ancient Roman elections involved outright bribery and corruption rather than merely spending on speech; and even that wasn’t really what caused the republic to collapse.

As Goodman and Soni recognize, the financial corruption that plagued ancient Rome was not spending on campaign speech, but flagrant bribery of voters and public officials:

Ancient politicians were just as skilled as modern ones at identifying and exploiting loopholes in election law. In Rome, the key loophole lay in the fuzzy distinction between ambitus (electoral bribery) and mere benignitas (generosity). Roman elections were often won on the strength of free food, drinks, entertainment, and sometimes hard cash offered directly to voters and financed by private fortunes. In fact, Roman campaign slogans were sometimes inscribed on the bottom of commemorative wine cups—you could drain the cup and find out whom to vote for. Most of the Roman elite relied on the gentleman’s agreement that the line between bribery and generosity would not be strictly patrolled. At worst, rank vote-buying was something your opponents engaged in; you, on the other hand, were simply being a good neighbor….

Politicians able to afford the massive bribes were usually able to afford protection after the fact. Worse, with no enforceable limits on spending and a heavy premium on one-upsmanship, the

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Alito on Citizens United

BLT reports that Justice Samuel Alito addressed criticisms of the Supreme Court’s Citzens United decision in a speech at the Federalist Society’s annual lawyers’ convention in Washington, D.C. on Thursday night.

Alito said arguments can be made for overturning Citizens United, but not the popular one that boils down to one line: Corporations shouldn’t get free speech rights like a person.

“It is pithy, it fits on a bumper sticker, and in fact a variety of bumper stickers are available,” Alito told a crowd of about 1,400 at The Federalist Society’s annual dinner. He cited two: “End Corporate Personhood,” and “Life does not begin at incorporation.”

Then Alito pointed out the same people do not question the First Amendment rights of media corporations in cases like The New York Times Co. v. Sullivan [and] the Pentagon papers case. If corporations did not have free speech rights, newspapers would lose such cases, he said. . . .

Alito said the real issue is whether free speech rights “should be limited to certain preferred corporations, namely those media organizations.” And with the proliferation of the Internet and social media, the line is getting more blurry between individuals and media, he said.

According to the report Alito also recounted some of his experiences at Yale Law School, including his constitutional law class with Charles Reich. […]

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Upcoming Debate on Citizens United at Amherst College

This Friday at 7:30 PM, I will be debating the Citizens United decision and campaign finance issues at my alma mater, Amherst College. The other participants in the debate will be Prof. Larry Lessig (Harvard Law School), John Samples (Cato Institute), and John Medaille (University of Dallas).

I answered some common criticisms of Citizens United here and here. […]

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Corporate Speech and Corporate Purposes

Here’s one argument I’ve heard with regard to Citizens United, most recently on this thread but also from others: Once upon a time, corporations were seen as having to announce a specific set of purposes in their charters — e.g., to make money by selling cheese — and couldn’t go outside those purposes. If only that rule were reinstated, that would be a constitutional way of avoiding Citizens United, because corporate speech supporting or opposing candidates is outside those purposes.

But I don’t think that will work (even setting aside the substantial practical economic problems that it will cause, given that the flexibility to enter into new lines of business is often vital to corporations, especially when they face international competition). There are basically two variants of this proposal:

1. One variant of the proposal would be for states to issue corporate charters that expressly forbid corporations from speaking about political candidates (or ballot measures or what have you). But I think that would run into the same Citizens United problem. A state has no obligation to grant a corporate charter; but I don’t think it can limit the charter to exclude political advocacy any more than it can tell newspapers, “if you want to use the corporate form, you can’t editorialize for or against candidates,” tell churches, “if you want to organize yourselves as corporations, you can’t proselytize,” tell medical establishments, “if you want to organize yourselves as corporations, you can’t perform abortions,” or tell businesses, “if you want to organize yourselves as corporations, you can’t manufacture or sell guns.”

2. Another variant would be to require that corporations list particular purposes, and then only spend investor money on things that seriously advance those purposes — likely by replacing the “business judgment” rule, which leaves corporations lots […]

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ACS Panel on Citizens United

This morning I attended a panel at the American Constitution Society conference titled “Citizens United Two Years Later: Money, Politics and Democracy at Stake.” The panel was moderated by Democracy editor Michael Tomasky and featured University of Montana law professor Anthony Johnstone, Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout, longtime campaign finance activist Fred Wertheimer, founder Democracy 21, Capital University law professor Bradley Smith, Brennan Center constitutional fellow Monica Youn, and Laurence Gold, Associate General Counsel, AFL-CIO. It was an interesting panel, and I’ve summarized the discussion below the fold. […]

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Citizens United and the Wisconsin Recall

In yesterday’s WSJ, Stanford’s Michael McConnell explained why progressives should not blame the Supreme Court’s Citizens United for Governor Walker’s victory over the union-backed recall effort. If anything, Citizens United helped those trying to oust the controversial governor, as unions put far more money into the recall election than did corporations. Governor Walker may have outspent his opponents, but the bulk of his money came from individuals, not corporations (and he also benefited from a quirk in Wisconsin law allowing unlimited donations).

For the most part . . . Mr. Walker’s direct, big-ticket support came from sources that have been lawful for decades.

His opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, got his support primarily from labor unions, whose participation was legitimized by Citizens United. Without that decision so demonized by the political left, Mr. Barrett would have been at even more of a financial disadvantage.

Speaking generally, Citizens United is likely to benefit Democrats more than Republicans. Corporations rarely make independent expenditures during candidate elections in their own name, because the ads offend customers, workers and shareholders. And direct corporate contributions to candidates tend to be split more or less evenly between the two parties, largely neutralizing their effect.

But unions have no compunctions against running campaign ads, and almost all of their money goes to Democrats. The Republicans’ advantage, when they have one, comes from rich individual donors—and the right of individuals to make expenditures in support of candidates long predates Citizens United.

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The Potential Impact of the People’s Rights Amendment Goes Far Beyond Restricting Freedom of Speech

Co-blogger Eugene Volokh has an excellent post on how the proposed People’s Rights Amendment threatens freedom of speech. But it’s important to recognize that the proposal goes far beyond denying free speech rights to entities organized as corporations. It would deny them all other constitutional rights as well. Section 1 of the proposed amendment states that the “the rights protected by this Constitution” are limited to “the rights of natural persons.” Notice that this is not limited to free speech rights or even to First Amendment rights generally. Section 2 emphasizes that “People, person, or persons as used in this Constitution does not include corporations, limited liability companies or other corporate entities established by the laws of any state, the United States, or any foreign state.” Notice that this is not limited to for-profit corporations lobbying for their narrow self-interest. It applies to all corporations of any kind, including nonprofits, media corporations, churches, and others.

Thus, the PRA would deny all constitutional rights to all entities organized as corporations. If the Amendment passes, government would be free to search corporate-owned premises at will, restrict freedom of religion at houses of worship owned by corporate entities (which includes most churches), condemn corporate-owned property for private uses and without paying compensation, and so on. This result is consistent with the logic of those who criticize the Citizens United decision on the grounds that corporations don’t have First Amendment rights because they aren’t “real” people. If this reasoning is correct with respect to the First Amendment, it surely applies to other constitutional rights too. But even dedicated supporters of campaign finance regulations might wonder whether those laws are so wonderful that their protection justifies the sweeping restrictions on all other constitutional rights embodied in the People’s Rights Amendment.

Unfortunately, this dangerous result […]

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The “People’s Rights Amendment” and the Media

I blogged last week about the People’s Rights Amendment, which has been introduced by Congressman Jim McGovern. Among other things, I argued, the Amendment would mean that Congress and state and local legislatures would be free to restrict what’s printed by newspapers that are organized as corporations. The National Review Online took the same view. Now the backers of the Amendment are arguing that the National Review say that’s a “false claim[]” (thanks to Opher Banarie for the pointer):

Your editorial also makes false claims that the People’s Rights Amendment would adversely impact freedom of the press. These claims are clearly contradicted by section 3 of the amendment, which reads:

Nothing contained herein shall be construed to limit the people’s rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, free exercise of religion, and such other rights of the people, which rights are inalienable.

Well, let’s look at the whole text of the suggested Amendment:

Section 1. We the people who ordain and establish this Constitution intend the rights protected by this Constitution to be the rights of natural persons.

Section 2. People, person, or persons as used in this Constitution does not include corporations, limited liability companies or other corporate entities established by the laws of any state, the United States, or any foreign state, and such corporate entities are subject to such regulations as the people, through their elected state and federal representatives, deem reasonable and are otherwise consistent with the powers of Congress and the States under this Constitution.

Section 3. Nothing contained herein shall be construed to limit the people’s rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, free exercise of religion, and such other rights of the people, which rights are inalienable.

So under section 1, all constitutional rights, including the First Amendment, […]

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