Free Speech for Corporations in US
The US Supreme Court declared on 21 January 2010 in a landmark decision that corporations have all the rights of free speech that citizens have enjoyed since 1791.
The Supreme Court held that corporate funding of independent political broadcasts in candidate elections cannot be limited under the First Amendment. The majority decision, delivered by Justice Kennedy, found the existing legislation prohibition of all independent expenditures by corporations and unions was invalid and could not be applied to the particular spending under consideration. "If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens,for simply engaging in political speech." He also noted that since there was no way to distinguish between media and other corporations, these restrictions would allow Congress to suppress political speech in newspapers, books, television and blogs.
President Barack Obma was strongly critical saying "this ruling strikes at our democracy itself", "I can't think of anything more devasting to the public interest" and "the Supreme Court has reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests to spend without limit in our elections".
The American Civil Liberties Union membership was split over the implications of the ruling and its board sent the issue to its special committee on campaign finance for further consideration.
This decision is of interest in New Zealand following the repeal of the Electoral Finance Act 2007 and the review in 2009 of the electoral finance system that New Zealand should have. The resulting Electoral (Finance Reform and Advance Voting) Amendment Bill is currently before the Electoral Legislation Committee and submissions close on 17 June 2010.
The decision, which appears to give to a corporation the same right of free speech as an individual, is quite incredible. This is a legal entity, created solely by statute and with neither mind nor heart, and it now has the capacity to "speak"! Moreover, as the corporation has no words of its own this means that one or more persons "behind the scene" can formulate the words and then shelter from any responsibility associated with those words. Truly an alarming proposition.