Patrick’s Article in Recent Indicator Defending Corporate Campaign Financing Absurd
By Alexander Hurst '12
At the risk of sparking an Indicator/Student flame war, I’m going to use this space to respond to Justin Patrick’s most recent Indicator piece, “Left Speechless,” concerning last month’s Supreme Court decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission. His title is somewhat of a misnomer because corporations most certainly were not left “speechless” by the Supreme Court’s decision — those who care about the legitimacy not only of our democracy, but the legitimacy of personhood, on the other hand, were.

Patrick claims that those of us bemoaning the decision are faced with an “irreconcilable contradiction” in our arguments — that we believe democracy is something to be preserved but that “the voting public is so stupid that corporate-funded advertisements will demolish the entire enterprise.” In reality, what we recognize is that elections are becoming ever more expensive and advertising-based enterprises leave politicians ever more beholden to the sources of money that fund their campaigns.

His second argument is that the McCain-Feingold bill exempted media corporations, which have far better means to subvert the democratic process. While I am no defender of Fox News, his solution is rather illogical. If there were a problem with media organizations, such as Fox not being limited in the political speech they can broadcast as news, then why would the solution be to give corporations that do not even make the pretext of being objective news organizations free reign to spend in elections?

But those are just side-arguments to the main point I want to make. Patrick defends corporations as rights-bearing entities that are beyond the kind of regulation that Citizens United overturned. There are two problems with this claim. The first is that rights-bearing entities are regulated all the time by the state. Former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously said, “My right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.” If money is a corporate fist, then elections are our metaphorical nose. Regulation is perfectly justified when corporate action threatens the legitimacy of free elections, something that citizens of this country have a right to participate in.

That brings me to my second point. Corporations are not citizens in the same way as you, Justin Patrick or I. Can corporations vote? Can they run for and hold public office? The idea is preposterous. The idea is absurd, so why should corporations enjoy the same rights of speech in regards to elections as citizens who can actively participate in them? They shouldn’t. The rights of individuals are one thing, but corporations are groups of people acting in concert with far greater resources than an individual can bring to bear.

The state has every right to regulate corporate actions. If there were a hierarchy of rights, it would go as follows: first, the inalienable human rights to which we all have an innate claim; second, the rights of citizenship, a state-created category that is bestowed upon a chosen few; lastly, the rights of corporations, which are, though Patrick tries to sidestep the issue, state-created entities through which the actions of citizens are channeled. To elevate them to the level of citizenship equal to actual human beings is wrong and illogical.

Justin concludes his argument by claiming that it is “only via open and constant argument that truth may emerge.” Unlimited corporate financial philandering in elections would be a bane to the existence of truth and to forces of corruption. Our democracy was not created so that the Senate chamber would ring with the words, “The chair recognizes the Senator from Lockheed Martin.” Nor was it created so that enormous floods of money could dominate the airwaves and obscure truth. It was created so that the people would govern themselves by electing the wisest among them; not those backed by the wealthiest corporations.

Issue 16, Submitted 2010-02-24 02:35:05