The Supreme Court rendered a decision Thursday destined to significantly alter the shape of future elections, ruling that companies and labor unions can spend their own money on political advertisements that are uncoordinated with the campaigns of specific candidates. The case pitted the court’s five conservative justices, including swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy, against the four liberals. The division along ideological lines highlights the struggle ensuing in many areas of government between liberty and the persistently anti-corporation attitude of the left.
The arguments presented in defense of campaign finance regulation claim that large companies would be too influential in protecting their own interests if allowed to spend from their own treasuries on advertisements. Often this interest is the preservation of America’s free enterprise system, as it is with the opposition of the health insurance industry to the current reform proposals and that of American banks to further financial regulation. Attempts at silencing these businesses because of their participant role in the economic system under attack by Democrats are thus a subtle and indirect content-based restriction on free expression. While Democrats persisted in trying to prevent companies from mounting their opposition, those who are thinking more clearly value their perspective – if anything, the vehement admonitions of the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries ought to awaken us to the detriment of current proposals.
With this ruling, businesses will be free to express themselves on these issues, just like regular Americans; under a now over-turned previous court decision the government could bar companies from spending money on campaign ads. Parts of the McCain-Feingold bill were voided which banned issue ads late in the campaign cycle. The issue at hand was the challenge to a video criticizing Hillary Clinton produced by a conservative advocacy group.
As I argued in a previous post, throughout the constitutional history of free expression, the rights of speech and press have been extended to financial capability. Some of the earliest attempts at censorship in America were licensing laws or taxes designed to hurt publishers financially and thus stop the presses. Such efforts are now unconstitutional; it is only logical that total disqualification from expression based on financial capability is now unconstitutional, as well.