Some of the recent letters to the editor regarding the Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission could have used a bit more thought.
One letter did well in outlining the deleterious effect that unrestricted corporate or union campaign financing and Senatorial dithering can have on the nation (Republicans will likely stall action on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case, 02/10/2010). However, the author failed to connect these phenomena to the core issue in the case — free speech. The Supreme Court didn’t rule on whether or not the effects of corporate political actions are good or bad; they ruled that free speech is a right extended to corporations, with the implication that campaign contributions are a form of free speech.
Another letter starts by portraying corporations as evil entities that attack “our” financial markets (Supreme Court gives special interest groups undue power, 02/11/2010). For the most part, corporations created and sustained the financial markets that fund our economy, so it’s dishonest to portray them solely as a destructive force. Additionally, although corporate greed played a role in the financial collapse, so too did misguided governmental altruism and mundane consumer greed. A 1999 New York Times article by Steven Holmes points out that the Department of Housing and Urban Development pressured Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to increase the number of loans given to subprime borrowers, hoping to help low- and moderate-income people buy homes. Many consumers made the mistake of purchasing a house above their means.
The author goes on to critique the Supreme Court’s ruling on Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee, citing precedent that free speech can be limited, like in cases in which it induces a violent situation. The example he provides is an acute instance of limitation: there is a direct chain of causality from shouting “fire” to people getting trampled to death. Additionally, no one derives any benefit from the trampling. On the other hand, proving that corporate campaign financing harms society in a direct manner would be impossible. Furthermore, unlike his example, corporate financing is likely to be beneficial to some parts of society or the economy, so one cannot label such financing unequivocally bad.