By Allen Dickerson
Last month marked the second anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, a case which famously expanded the scope of political speech protected under the First Amendment. Whereas corporations and unions were previously prohibited from directly advocating for and against political candidates, the Supreme Court recognized that those viewpoints are important components of the national debate, and the Constitution does not permit the government to suppress or stifle those voices.
But that decision has been controversial. Many object to the Citizens United decision because of a general view that money spent in the political process is somehow inherently corrupting or distorting. Others – especially those from within the environmental and labor movements – see for-profit corporations as their political enemies and seek partisan or ideological advantage by squelching corporate political speech while their own speech remains unencumbered.
As a result, corporations themselves have become a crucial battleground. Politically active, mostly left-leaning, groups have increasingly turned to “activist investing” with the aim of limiting corporate political speech.
Activist investing is the process whereby politically concerned individuals and groups purchase a minimum number of shares in a company, not solely or principally with the intention of maintaining those shares for their wealth-generating potential, but instead to ensure that they can force corporate votes on political initiatives concerning global warming, labor relations and political spending.