Tag Archive: corporate-personhood: Social Memory Complex

Glenn Greenwald and the Technocratic Blind Spot

I'm a big fan of Glenn Greenwald; just about every position he takes is anti-authoritarian, liberal in the best sense, and based on rule of law (which, in this age, is as close to fairness as one can expect). However, he wrote an article on the Chick-fil-a controversy that bugs me. On the narrow question of whether governments should be able to punish corporations for political advocacy, I agree with him that such punishment is unconstitutional. I take issue with his reasoning, though.

Greenwald invites us to consider a series of bills that enlist government in punishing corporations for views they express, money they donate to causes, etc. Some examples:

  • Congress enacts a law that states: No business incorporated in America, whether for-profit or non-profit, shall be permitted to donate any of its money to groups espousing liberal ideas. Any business found to be in violation of this prohibition shall be guilty of a Class A felony. Corporate donations to groups espousing conservative causes shall still be permissible and legal.
  • A city enacts an ordinance that states: Any business found to have donated money to any group that advocates same-sex marriage or abortion rights (including Human Rights Campaign and Planned Parenthood) shall be barred from doing business within the city limits. Businesses shall still be permitted to donate money to groups which advocate against same-sex marriage or against abortion rights.

I agree with him that the above laws are unconstitutional. Government is prohibited from discriminating or giving unequal protection to the free speech rights of corporations as currently settled law stands (that was indeed one of the caveats he made). Indeed, Greenwald took pains to point out that even in the Citizens United case, not one Supreme Court justice questioned the legitimacy of corporate personhood at all (I addressed Greenwald's commentary on this matter in more detail here). I also agree with him that The Nation's Lee Fang takes an unprincipled, politically expedient position against corporate personhood -- one cannot confine one's critiques of the doctrine to only those cases where it acts against one's sense of justice. Nobody wants to be allied with a hack like Fang less than I.


It's Not About Free Speech

On Thursday, the Supreme Court struck down several key restrictions on corporate campaign contributions. While many lament the expected influx of yet more corporate cash into an already compliant political system, does anybody really think McCain-Feingold had accomplished much of an improvement? These regulations only affect those who cannot afford the lawyers, accountants, and other professionals who spend their careers finding ways to circumvent the spirit of the laws.

There are two key elements to the court's conclusion: the constitutional prohibition of free speech restrictions and the status of the corporation as a person. Libertarians should not complain about the court's conclusions with respect to the first element. The government must abstain from interfering with any person's political contributions, monetary or polemical.

In the past the court has seen fit to abridge first amendment rights in cases where the government has a compelling interest. Campaign finance laws have usually rested on this basis, relying on the court's acknowledgement of the need for balancing a variety of interests. In throwing out McCain-Feingold, the Supreme Court can be seen as effectively reining in these deviations from the letter of the law. A strictly defined freedom of speech should certainly be defended.


Written on Saturday, January 23, 2010
Tags: regulation, corporatism, supreme-court, libertarianism, corporate-personhood