Response to Citizen’s United v. FEC Criticism

Federal Election Commission LogoIf a person takes a moment to search a major company on the Internet, that person will find said company’s mission statement along with a host of other information about the company’s values, ethics and related news.

While the criticism of Citizen’s United v. The Federal Election Commission (hereafter referred to as Citizen’s United) arguing a corporation may be publicly supporting something that does not represent the values of its employees or shareholders is valid, I would argue there is an element of personal responsibility that comes with investing in or working for a company that includes investigating that company’s values.

A corporation has free speech rights as a fictitious person respecting political speech. As the majority opinion in Citizen’s United states, “The First Amendment protects speech and speaker, and the ideas that flow from each.” Precedent set in First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti supports the rationale employed by the Roberts Court, “The identity of the speaker is not decisive in determining whether speech is protected. Corporations and other associations, like individuals, contribute to the ‘discussion, debate and the dissemination of information and ideas.'”

In other words, there is a legal precedent engrained by a more than one Court recognizing corporations’ rights to free political speech. Just like newspaper editorial boards are free to endorse candidates, corporations are entities that have opinions to contribute to political discourse. Citizens do not have to listen or agree, but corporations do have a right to discuss and identify issues in the public sphere.

If an employee, potential employee, investor or potential investor do not feel the corporation’s political ideology reflects their own, they do not have to work for or invest with that company. For instance, Google’s mission statement is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” If Jane Doe is running for President of the United States on the platform of making illegal information aggregators, for whatever reason, Google has a right to defend their corporate interests with advertising, press releases and political contributions. If John Smith who invests with Google supports Jane Doe, he is free to sell his shares and no longer associate himself with Google.

Another example: The Dow Chemical Company is a corporation one of my best friends calls “the most evil company in the world.” Therefore, he will never apply to that company because its business ethics are not in-line with his own. There is no shortage of information available on corporate decision-making for any company. Everyone is free to choose for whom they work. Arguing that a corporate opinion does not reflect everyone’s opinion so they should not get one is the same as saying we should take action shows off of television because a group of mothers does not like violence. Corporations all have their own goals, objectives and pursuits of success just like natural persons. Therefore, the corporation should be allowed to loose its opinion regarding legislation that may negatively impact its goals.

It is understood that employees, investors and public relations professionals who may serve as spokesmen for a corporation do not necessarily share the corporation’s official, political view. Every Chick-fil-A employee may not support the “traditional definition of the family unit,” but the corporation has a right to contribute its views to the marketplace of ideas for informative and analytical purposes.

Furthermore, laws barring company rights to political speech fail the strict scrutiny test as cited in the Citizen’s United opinion; that law cannot be justified by a compelling government interest. A corporation acting on behalf of its interests does not prohibit any government body or democratic function from succeeding. Also, the requirements of identifying the source of corporate political advertising still stands. A rational voter should be able to decide for him or herself whether or not they trust what a corporation is telling him or her. Also, if a corporate ad truly altered a person’s political opinion, odds are they were not strong in their convictions to begin with, which would be a sorry indictment of the voting public.

The issue of extending voting rights or rights to run for public office to corporations borders on reductio ad absurdum. We have to think logically and logistically about what laws apply to the personhood of a corporation. Clearly, not allowing a corporation to hold public office would pass the strict scrutiny test. If a company is running any government office, the logistical issues alone would bring the office to a grinding halt, thereby effectively inhibiting the government entity’s effectiveness. How, also, does legislation get voted on or passed? Who would sign bills into law; would it be signed President FedEx? Just as corporations are not protected from self-incrimination under the law or from unwanted sexual contact, there are certain rights that do not make sense when applied to non-natural persons. However, free speech is not one of them.

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