By Brad Smith
Seven years after Citizens United, the whole “corporations aren’t people” and therefore shouldn’t have rights bit is getting pretty tiresome. Certainly, our elected officials should be held to a higher standard of debate.
Yes, it’s true that if you’ve never thought about it, the idea that “corporations are people” seems absurd on its face. Corporations are not people, of course. But, for many purposes, it makes perfect sense that the law treats them as such. For example, if the law did not treat corporations as people, they couldn’t be sued. The bigger point, though, is that corporations have rights because people have rights, and people form and own corporations. This is a principle as old as the American Republic, re-emphasized by the Supreme Court as early as 1819 in Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward. A corporation, the Court noted, “is an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law.” But that didn’t mean that people gave up their rights when they formed a corporation. Rather, the decision emphasized that when people join together to accomplish things, they usually need some form of organization, and shouldn’t have to sacrifice their rights just because they organize.
By Brad Smith
Washington Examiner: Soon-to-be former Democratic FEC chair tried to politicize the bipartisan commission (In the News)
By Bradley A. Smith
Commissioner Ravel came to Washington with a sincere desire to make the FEC a more effective, more efficient agency. Her plans, however, broke down in a combination of ideological overreach and a disdain for the hard work of democracy and governance.
Ravel ignored advice to focus her efforts on modest but meaningful goals that would have bipartisan support at the FEC, such as updating outdated regulations and improving reporting guidelines and mechanisms. Instead, she sought to implement a sweeping progressive campaign finance agenda that had not passed Congress: imposing controls on new media and pushing for unprecedented invasions of Americans’ political lives under the guise of “disclosure.”…
Ravel ends her stint on a disappointing note, with a flurry of media activity and the publication of a “report” prepared by her office offering tendentious descriptions of cases on which she lost votes at the FEC. As proof that the agency’s Republicans are violating their constitutional oaths to “enforce the law” she offers the mere fact that she could not muster a majority of the commission to agree with her.
By Brad Smith
The year is 2019. The government sends in a SWAT team to seize any corporate property it wants without the due process or just compensation required by the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. The government also has the power to swipe bank assets, raid newspaper offices without warrants or just cause, and even censor any news published by a media corporation.
No, it’s not the plot of a newly-unearthed Orwell novel. These tactics, and more, would be legal under an amendment to the U.S. Constitution cosponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.
Whitehouse’s proposal, introduced this year by Montana Democrat Jon Tester, is a constitutional amendment that aims to strip rights from corporate entities…
Oddly enough, in the momentous Citizens United decision, not even the court’s dissenters ever mentioned the issue of “corporate personhood.” Why? Because they all understood that corporate personhood is a longstanding doctrine that is not controversial in law, and was not what the case was about…
Constitutional amendments such as that offered by Whitehouse will not pass in the next few years – but they indicate the general hostility to free speech that many senators have, and their willingness to silence speakers they don’t like.
Senator Jon Tester (D. Mont.) has introduced another constitutional amendment to strip rights from corporate entities. His amendment (S .J. Res. 20) would provide that “(1) The rights enumerated in this Constitution and other rights retained by the people shall be the rights of natural persons; (2) As used in this Constitution, the terms ‘people’, […]
Filed Under: Blog, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, Issues, Citizens United v. FEC, Constitutional Amendment, Corporate Personhood, Elizabeth Warren, Jon Tester, SJR 20, We The People Amendment
By Bradley Smith
Under federal law, candidates, political parties and PACs (including “super PACs”) must disclose all donors who contribute more than $200. Sometimes, however, groups that exist for things other than promoting candidates will spend money on an election ad. Because many people support these groups for reasons other than political activity, they are not required to disclose information on financial supporters unless those people gave for the purpose of financing political ads. But the group making the expenditure must disclose its political spending in excess of $250.
Thus, “dark money” isn’t really “dark” – we know who spent it, and how much they spent. We just don’t know the name of every individual who gave money to that group or organization.
Despite the panic about “dark money,” the Center for Competitive Politics, using data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics (an organization that does much to pump up the “dark money” scare) and the Federal Election Commission, calculates that “dark money” was less than 4 percent of all federal political spending in the 2014 election cycle. While final numbers aren’t in yet for 2016, preliminary figures look like they will fall below 3 percent for 2016.
By Brad Smith and Luke Wachob
Democratic proposals to “get money out of politics” have been tried for over 40 years, starting with the institution of campaign-contribution limits and donor-disclosure requirements via the Federal Election Campaign Act in the 1970s. It hasn’t gone as planned.
Notably, comparisons across states find no correlation between campaign-finance restrictions and public corruption, quality of governance or public trust in government. Given how dramatically these laws vary from state to state, this is startling. Eleven states allow individuals to donate any amount to candidates, while other states limit contributions to just a few hundred dollars.
Yet from the start, progressives have insisted on misreading Trump’s anti-corruption message as an endorsement of their failed policies…
Even if you support these policies, it’s silly to say they’re the only way to change the culture of Washington. When Trump says “drain the swamp,” only progressives hear “force nonprofits to disclose their donors” or “add more regulation of political participation.”
For Trump voters, extensive regulation, massive bureaucracy and “the swamp” go hand in hand.
The six weeks since the presidential election have seen a new phenomenon: liberals, progressives, and Democrats, and a handful of anti-Trump Republicans engaged in a series of wild efforts to convince Republican members of the Electoral College not to vote for Donald Trump, as pledged. There have been death threats, lesser threats, harassment, and sincere […]
Filed Under: Blog, Carolyn Hunter, Donald Trump, Electoral College, FEC, FECA, Hamilton electors, Hillary Clinton, john podesta, Lawrence Lessig, Lee Goodman, Matthew Petersen, Moral Electors, Unite for America
By Brad Smith
In a country as large and diverse as the United States, a system that forces candidates to campaign away from the people who already control the nation’s financial, cultural and governmental hubs is a good thing. The Electoral College forces candidates to build broad-based coalitions that cover the country.
Our constitution is full of anti-majoritarian provisions. The Bill of Rights places limits on what popular majorities can do through government. Texas has more people than the six New England states combined, but federalism prevents Texans from imposing their tax and spending priorities on New England states. It’s hard to imagine this country holding together if pure majoritarianism was the basis of power.
The Electoral College does not assure that the president will have received the most popular votes, but it does assure that the president will have won with substantial popular support, and that his support will not be restricted to one region of the country or to a handful of coastal metropolises. This is ample reason to support a system that, in just five of 49 elections, has gone against the nominal popular vote winner.
By Bradley A. Smith
Federal Election Commissioner Ellen L. Weintraub’s attack on former FEC commissioner Donald F. McGahn was misleading [“A disquieting pick for White House counsel,” op-ed, Dec. 11]. Ms. Weintraub claimed Mr. McGahn said, “I’m not enforcing the law as Congress passed it. I plead guilty as charged.” However, the article containing that quote noted, “McGahn’s admission of ‘guilt,’ however, came with a catch: He argued that it wasn’t his job to enforce this law as Congress passed it. Instead, he said, the commission’s job was to enforce the law as it’s been upheld by the judicial branch of government.”
Mr. McGahn made an important and correct point: The Supreme Court has ruled that many campaign finance laws are unconstitutional. If Mr. McGahn had said he would “ignore decisions of the Supreme Court,” he would face just and vociferous criticism.
Social Science Research Network: The Academy, Campaign Finance, and Free Speech under Fire (In the News)
By Bradley A. Smith
This short essay, part of a symposium on “Free Speech Under Fire” at Brooklyn Law School, argues that academic efforts to fit campaign finance restrictions within the rubric of the First Amendment have distorted First Amendment doctrine, and contributed to a decline in respect for free speech generally. The essay briefly reviews and critiques recent scholarship by Robert Post (“Citizens Divided”), Richard Hasen (“Plutocrats United”), Larry Lessig, and Zephyr Teachout.