2012 may be miserable -- but if it is, it won't be because corporations spend on politics. And anyway, they have a right to spend.
In politics, money is speech.
The very first amendment that the Founders chose to add to the Constitution couldn't be more clear: "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech ... ."
Yet most people support laws against political speech -- when they don't like the speakers.
Asking government to regulate political speech is a poisonous idea. Politicians naturally think that people who challenge their power should be restrained. Sen. John McCain led the majority who championed "campaign finance reform" that, among other things, forbade anonymous donors to run ads in the crucial weeks just before elections (when most voters finally pay attention).
My ABC colleagues loved McCain-Feingold. Some conservatives think journalists like the law because it exempts media corporations. But I think it goes back to our gut instinct that corporations are bad and rich people spending money to influence politics is very bad.
But political (and religious) speech is exactly what the Founders were eager to protect when they wrote the First Amendment. It has been nice to watch the Supreme Court overrule McCain-Feingold piece by piece.
In 2008, a court ruled that TV ads for a nonprofit corporation's critical documentary about then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton violated McCain-Feingold. When the Supremes overturned that ruling, saying that corporations and unions may fund political ads, the mainstream media were so upset, they sounded like there had been a coup.
The New York Times said the decision "strikes at the heart of democracy." The Washington Post quoted someone saying it "threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions."
The swing justice, Anthony Kennedy, was right to say: "When Government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought. This is unlawful."
He also said, "Political speech must prevail against laws that would suppress it."
The American Civil Liberties Union agreed, but most progressives condemned the Supremes for "judicial activism." I thought progressives favored free speech. I was wrong.
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