Earlier this month, Charlottesville-based author and activist David Swanson posted an article on the web site of Move to Amend (also known as MovetoAmend.org) explaining that organization’s agenda, which is to amend the U.S. Constitution to circumscribe the right to free speech as guaranteed by the First Amendment.
Move to Amend is floating several proposals, largely designed to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which ruled that individuals do not lose their free speech rights simply by banding together for a common purpose as an incorporated entity. The Citizens United decision has been gaining a lot of attention in this election year because of the activities of so-called “Super PACs” supporting and opposing various presidential campaigns. (Stephen Colbert has been making a new career out of this.)
In his article, Swanson argues that corporations should not enjoy the same freedom of speech as individuals:
The U.S. Constitution never gave any rights or personhood to corporations or transformed money into speech. It ought not to be necessary to amend a document to, in effect, point out that the sky is blue and up is not down. If the Supreme Court rules that Goldman Sachs can send legislation directly to the White House and cut out the congressional middleman, will we have to amend the Constitution to remove the Goldman Sachs branch of government? Where will this end?
The Constitution also never gave the Supreme Court the power to overturn every law passed by Congress. In fact, the Constitution explicitly gives Congress the power to set exceptions and regulations on what types of cases the Supreme Court can take. So, Congress could take some types of cases away, although it might have to be a great many.
There are many things wrong with amending the Constitution to take away liberties rather than enhance them. The last amendment to diminish liberty, the 18th, was a tremendous failure and was repealed within 15 years.
Some of the proposals even fail on their own terms. For example, the proposals include a “news media” exemption for the ban on corporate speech. What happens if George Soros or the Koch brothers decide to buy a newspaper or TV network?
Flaws and fright aside, I’m more interested in the utter hypocrisy of Swanson and his allies who want to eliminate freedom of speech for incorporated organizations.
It turns out the Move to Amend is a project of the Liberty Tree Foundation for the Democratic Revolution, Inc.
That’s right: Move to Amend is sponsored by a corporation.
Indeed, several of the partner organizations listed by the Orwellian-named Liberty Tree are also corporations:
I could go on (and on), but you get the picture.
Indeed, even the local organization with which Swanson is most closely associated, the Charlottesville Center for Peace and Justice, is registered with the IRS as a corporation (albeit one with a very small income).
All of these organizations have and offer opinions on public policy — they all seem to have a very clear position on what should be the public policy with regard to campaign finance — yet they are organized as corporations, which Swanson argues should not have the ability to express their views on public policy. (At its narrowest form, Move to Amend’s argument is that corporations should not be able to express their views with regard to candidates for public office, who end up making the public policies that these corporations advocate for or against.)
My question for Swanson and his colleagues with Move to Amend: Do you really want to limit the freedom of speech of all these organizations in your alliance? Do you want to put gaffer’s tape across the mouths of these scions of the progressive movement?
I’m eager to hear the answer.