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Katz '14: 'Freedom' taken too far

Apparently Abraham Lincoln needs to revise the Gettysburg Address. It says America is a "government of the people, by the people, for the people." It won't take him long to update it. Just insert "corporations" where "people" once was.

Over two years ago, in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a bitterly divided Supreme Court ruled that the government may not ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections. Though we as Americans value freedom of expression, since when are corporations entitled to the same First Amendment rights as individuals?

This decision goes beyond violating the principles of our democracy. It threatens them. And it has given wealthy people and influential, well-connected politicians the power to potentially game the 2012 election.

The justices in the majority interpreted free speech rights much too broadly - and incorrectly. It is an absurd and dangerous claim to say corporations are just like people and are entitled to the same rights: Companies are artificial, legal constructs that exist to make money. Corporate spending on politics is not comparable to ordinary Americans' support of a candidate.

Citizens United was out to prove otherwise. The organization created "Hillary: The Movie," a flick that essentially argued why Hillary Rodham Clinton was unfit for the presidency. The FEC restricted Citizens' right to advertise the film during the 2008 primary season.

David Bossie, a Republican campaign operative and member of Citizens United, sued the FEC. According to the Washington Post, a lower court sided with the FEC in 2008, but Bossie was not satisfied and brought the case to the Supreme Court.

The decision overruled two well-established precedents that restricted corporate spending to support or oppose candidates. The 2002 law, known as McCain-Feingold, banned all broadcast, cable or satellite transmission of "electioneering communications" paid for by corporations or labor unions in the 30 days before the presidential primary and in the 60 days before the general elections, the New York Times reported.        

In a 1988 New York Times article, Ralph Nader and Carl J. Mayer noted how the framers of the Constitution "knew about corporations but chose not to mention [them]." The Constitution's rights are meant to equalize and empower the people, not moneymaking entities. Corporations have only economic interests at heart, and now, they have free reign to "inject as much money as they jolly well please into federal campaigns," wrote Jason Linkins of the Huffington Post. While an individual might be attracted to a candidate because of plans to reform health care or education, a corporation does not think in those terms. In fact, a corporation, though composed of many individuals, does not "think" at all. It acts according to what would be most profitable. This empowers the people within a corporation, as companies hold more economic power and sway than do most Americans.

Regardless of the reason for someone's support of a candidate, that person represents only herself in a vote or donation. Who is the corporation representing, and precisely why is it involved in our community? Masked in a cloak of anonymity, the corporation can shout louder than ordinary Americans with its billions and billions of dollars. When enormous corporations can spend unlimited funds in federal campaigns, the voice of the people is lost. And is a democracy not a government of the people?

Instead of upholding the principles of the First Amendment, the five justices in the majority have actually destroyed the rights for those who are truly entitled to them - the people. By extending the same freedoms to corporations, the Court has diminished the value of the people's power. This decision truly twists the First Amendment and, in effect, causes it to lose its purpose for everyday Americans.

And now, the repercussions of the decision are beginning to surface.

Federal law caps at $2,500 the amount an individual can give to any one candidate during the primaries. Thanks to the Citizens decision, though, whatever money wealthy supporters cannot give directly to a presidential candidate can aid campaigns indirectly via Super PACs. A direct consequence of the court decision, a Super PAC is an independent group that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to support a candidate.

For example, the New York Times reported that former presidential candidate and Texas Gov. Rick Perry was among the top political fundraisers in the country thanks to his Super PACs, with a “vast network of wealthy supporters eager to bankroll his presidential ambitions.” The Times reported that in the last 10 years, Perry amassed $51 million from a mere 204 donors, according to research conducted by Texans for Public Justice.

Perhaps I'm naive to believe that money should be silenced in order for the people's true voice to prevail. But corporations and Super PACs possess superhuman privileges. With the chance to spend infinite amounts of money during election time, corporations hold most of the cards. Corporations are freer than we are.

Jaclyn Katz '14 understands that the University is not a person and can be reached at

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this column contained one sentence with language nearly identical to text that appeared in another written source. An Editor’s Note was published in The Herald Feb. 21, 2013. That Editor’s Note can be found here.





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