Money, Corporations, and Reality

While the Citizens United case has ignited righteous indignation on the political left, the Supreme Court ruling last week removing most caps on campaign advertising was not only the correct decision but represents a return to how our founders approached politics.

Every newspaper, magazine, and "news" outlet was exempted from corporate finance restrictions even before this ruling. Why? Because you cannot limit the free press. But why should that logic apply to businesses?

When our nation was founded the political parties, various organizations, the wealthy, and even many in the merchant class set about publishing "newspapers" that were little more than campaign ads. Printing was a huge business as a result. A single sheet newspaper could be prepared simply and distributed for a reasonable cost.

Newspapers were named the "Middletown Press Democrat" or the "Anyville Republican Gazette" for a reason. Media bias was a given. Even small towns had three and four papers, some daily and some weekly. Newspapers came and went with astonishing frequency. An angry business owner could become a publisher to rail against the town council. Papers lost money, but they didn't exist to make a profit -- they existed to win public opinion.

Even today, businesses by media and shape opinions. Somehow, that was perfectly legal but for another business to buy political ads was not legal?

A business, even the largest a corporation, is a voluntary gathering of individuals. No one makes me purchase a stock. Even stock options from an employer can be sold once vested. You do not have to participate in any business ownership against your will. By comparison, you can be forced to work under a union and it is nearly impossible to track how unions spend their resources.

Also, this ruling does not mean companies will rush into campaigns. I do not want to offend potential customers, and customers vary. If anything, companies are hesitant to invest in politics directly. Most will still donate to the Chamber of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Businesses, or other such organizations. In the end, companies want to be shielded from political connections.

Some companies might openly endorse views or candidates. As long as disclosure is mandatory, you can avoid businesses engaging in political activism if you wish.

Seriously, why should GE, Fox, Disney, and other media-owning companies be exempt from a law, while other companies were denied the same ability to shape opinion? Maybe every company should publish a monthly newsletter or sponsor a "news" Web site.

In reality, little will change with the lifting of donation limits. Companies want to make money -- and seldom are politicians a good long-term investment. Even when they are for a shot term, the eventual risk remains high. No corporate board is going to supporting wasting money on campaign donations without some purpose.

I assume political action committees and non-profit organizations will continue to be the major conduits for campaign money. In the end, little will change.


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