Social Question

wundayatta's avatar

Why should voters be protected against unlimited free speech for corporations?

Asked by wundayatta (58349 points ) May 15th, 2012

To protect voters is a form of paternalism. Who is it who protects them? How do we know the protection is unbiased?

Isn’t paternalism condescending? If we say voters need protection, aren’t we saying they are too stupid to protect themselves? Aren’t we saying they can’t be trusted to make good decisions for themselves? Doesn’t that mean we think we know better (whoever “we” is)?

And what is the difference between individuals, groups of individuals, and groups of individuals organized under a “corporate” umbrella? How can we distinguish between the will of a voluntary group individuals who legitimately all support the same cause, and a group that voluntarily invests in an organization that is pursuing its economic advantage under the direction of its leadership?

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27 Answers

tedd's avatar

In my opinion yes, we need to limit corporations and what they can do to influence elections. It’s one thing for them to openly state their position on an issue, and even donate to a candidate who agrees with them. But especially with the Superpacs, it’s all clandestine crap. They’re funding ignorance/propaganda campaigns that fill peoples heads with lies in order to trick them into voting against their own self interest. That is incredibly wrong in my book.

If I had my way, there would be zero outside funding for political campaigns. You’d get X dollars from the government, and guarantees of open debates or something of that nature. All this outside money has just ruined our political system.

ragingloli's avatar

What corporations have, that actual people do not have, is massive amounts of money, advertising departments, legal departments, bribed politicians and a swarm of lobbyists manipulating legislature.
But I guess the Jews did not need any protection from the Nazis either, because that would have been condescending paternalism, right? RIGHT?

wundayatta's avatar

@tedd Playing devil’s advocate here, but to tighten up your argument. How do you define “outside” here? Is there a citizenship test for money? Or should no one but the government fund political campaigns? If so, can an individual contribute to their own campaign?

And on what basis do you say they are funding “ignorance?” How do you know you are not the ignorant one? How can you distinguish between partisanship and lying in a campaign? Is “Factcheck.org” truly unbiased?

@ragingloli So you are blaming Nazism on corporations? Are you suggesting that if there had been only public financing of elections, Hitler never would have been elected?

Jaxk's avatar

More information is better than less. Deciding who’s information is allowed is censorship.

tedd's avatar

@wundayatta In my opinion it should be a fixed amount of money, most likely from the government. They should not be able to fund themselves, and citizens should not be allowed to support them either. All it is to me is a form of oligarchical rule, those with the most money win and continue to rule.

I may well have been duped at some point by a political ad (in fact I’m certain I probably was at some point). But all these partisan ads by superpacs and what have you, they’re utter BS. You get advertisements that list research and data from “organizations” that are not at all accredited, they state opinion as fact, take quotes entirely out of context (or make them up entirely… use scary music to frighten people even…. When you put a basic person out there who doesn’t have the time of day to fact check all of the drivel they’re being shown… it’s easy to fall for something. If a campaign wants to make an ad, that’s one thing…. but isn’t that bad enough? Now we have to have corporations with their own agendas making ads? Why don’t we just invent a time machine and go back to the middle ages now… save everyone the hassle.

ragingloli's avatar

@wundayatta
No, I am not, and I find it quite ridiculous that you would make such a claim.
I am saying that relatively powerless groups need protection from adverserial groups with tremendously more power, be it numerically, financially, militarily, legally or otherwise. Intelligence plays only a minimal role in that power struggle.
Slavery had to be ended by war. Desegregation had to be handed down by the courts. Interracial marriage equality had to be handed down by the courts. Same sex marriage equality will have to be handed down by the courts. Worker protection laws had to be handed down by the government. Anti discrimination laws had to be handed down by the government. Lacking substantial power, oppressed groups will be extremely unlikely to escape oppression without support by the courts or the government.

ratboy's avatar

@wundayatta, I believe you’ve confused “speech” with “spending.” Also many huge corporations are multinational and there is no reason to suspect that their interests are aligned with those of the nation. What is the rationale for permitting wealthy non-citizens to participate in US elections?

wundayatta's avatar

@ratboy I’m not exactly sure, but the Citizens United case may or may not create the precedent to allow foreigners to spend freely in our elections. President Obama thinks it does allow such spending, but Justice Alito apparently mouthed “Does not” during Obama’s last state of the union speech.

The current Congress seems unlikely to want to limit spending for Republicans. I have no idea where foreigners want to spend, but until they start supporting Democrats, I see no reason for Congress to attempt to limit campaign spending.

@ragingloli Morally, I am all in favor of helping those who are discriminated against. As a matter of political speech, I am not clear on how any body of judges or legislators can be trusted to decide who is discriminated against and who isn’t. I think it is always a matter of ordinary people coming to the defense of justice. The only way to kill corporate speech is to organize against it and when the masses of people come to see it as evil, it will be banished. But we can’t do it with the current legislature, since they are all gung-ho corporate apologists who want to free the corporations to do even more harm. After all, they are ideologues who believe that corporations can only do good, no matter how many people they hurt in the process of making their leaders unfathomably rich.

ETpro's avatar

Research on US elections shows that the candidate with the most money wins 94% of the time. Corporations have the bulk of disposable money to spend. If they spend it to get elected people who have cut backroom deals to do their bidding, granting them Federal contracts, tax breaks, legislated access to a monopoly, no limits on corporate wrongdoing, etc; we are no longer a democracy. We will be a total Corporatocracy, just as Germany and Italy became when Fascism took over there. Individual liberty will be subject to corporate approval. Any individual that threatens profits will be disappeared.

The worst part of the 5 Supreme Corporatist’s Citizens United debacle is that it legislated vast new powers for a form of political entity; the SuperPac. SuperPACs are now allowed to raise unlimited amounts of money and then donate it to a PAC, while preserving complete anonymity for their donors. The only required disclosure is that such and such SuperPAC give 250 million dollars to such-and-such PAC. The voters have no way of ever finding out who actually put up the money to push an agenda. If we know that adds claiming Global Warming is a hoax are being paid for by the Koch brothers, America’s biggest coal producers and owners of huge oil refining operations, then we might suspect their message is driven by their desire for bigger profits and not their concern for the long-term health of our nation and its ecology. But we can’t know that. We can’t even know when some firms in China funnel Communist Government funds to a SuperPAC to promote a trade agreement that will devastate American interests and boost China, Inc. Such transactions should violate the Foreign Nationals Contributions Act, but thanks to 5 Supreme Corporatists legislation from the bench, foreign corporations and through them foreign governments can now have complete freedom to secretly fund Manchurian candidates.

flutherother's avatar

Corporations aren’t people and they shouldn’t be considered in the same way. Is this not obvious? We can debate whether a human being has a soul but we know that corporations don’t. They are not spiritual entities, they are soulless and people need protection from them in all sorts of ways lest they be eaten alive. I am thinking of minimum wage legislation, health and safety at work and employee rights.

It is always sinister when corporations take an interest in politics. Citizens, or voters, can protect themselves from the corrupting influence of big business through legislation and they are fools if they don’t.

wundayatta's avatar

@flutherother Corporations are made up of people, so what is the difference between the corporate form of humanity and the individual form of humanity, aside from the fact of numbers? Are you saying that only individuals should be allowed a political voice, but that groups of individuals can not band together to make their voice stronger? Dig into this a bit more and tease out the differences you think are important.

tedd's avatar

@wundayatta The corporations number one goal is to make money, not see for the well being of our nation and it’s future…. That is the difference between corporations and people.

ragingloli's avatar

What corporations have, that actual people do not have, is massive amounts of money, advertising departments, legal departments, bribed politicians and a swarm of lobbyists manipulating legislature.” – Me

wundayatta's avatar

It’s got to be more thoughtful than this, guys. Yes, they have money. Are you saying we should have a say in inverse proportion to the amount of money we have? You seem to be suggesting that everyone should have equal access to the public ear, regardless of ability to pay to craft and distribute the message.

And what about the internet? Can’t everyone put their message out for anyone to see? Don’t we all have to potential to have our message go viral? Sure, big money helps you buy more eyes and ears through advertising, but do people really pay attention to advertising?

Let me point out that corporations do not have identical interests. Many times, their interests clash.

tedd's avatar

@wundayatta Most definitely people pay attention to advertising. A grass roots internet movement has a far smaller chance of succeeding in spreading it’s message than a multibillion dollar industry or company does.

Yes I am most definitely suggesting that we should all have equal access to the public ear. The validity of an argument should not be determined by your ability to get people to listen to you. If I have a microphone and I’m debating a guy without a microphone in front of 5000 people… No one outside the front 2 rows is going to hear the other guy, but that doesn’t make me right.

And yes industries sometimes clash, but let me point out a few easy ones where they not only don’t clash, but the combine together to further their own mutual goals that run against the well being of the general public. Healthcare companies, pharmaceutical companies, oil companies, fast food companies, etc, etc.

Paradox25's avatar

What is sad (extremely very much so) in my opinion is that ‘regular’ people already do have the power to research each candidate, vote for the candidate of their choosing and make their own voting decisions, but yet continue to support the candidates that spend the most money. It is very rare for me to support ‘upper teir’ candidates, since I try to vote for who I would think is the best person for the job, the most sincere, and that agrees with my stances the most.

I’ve taken alot of heat from the zombie voters who criticize me for supporting ‘unelectable’ candidates, to only turn around and hear them complaining after their boys/girls get elected. Obviously people are too lazy to do their own research on different candidates, so they buy the candidate that the money machine sold them instead. We do have the power to end this hijacking of our government (which was meant to be by the people, for the people) by corporate interests, simply by voting. Unfortunately it is becoming more difficult to find ‘clean’ candidates anymore, which is why we as voters need to be even more vigilant when deciding who to give another term to or not.

ETpro's avatar

@wundayatta As I noted here, “the candidate with the most money wins 94% of the time.” Do you believe that is factually inaccurate? Or do you simply not care if our democracy is now for sale to the highest bidder? Is it OK with you if the top bidder is a coalition of foreign powers bent on installing a government that will support one-world rule by some cabal? That can actually happen now with the absurd Supreme Court decision in place.

We should actually take election finding entirely out of the process and fund national elections via public funding.

Jaxk's avatar

@ETpro

First your link shows the number to be lower than 94%. That’s not the biggest issue I have with your point. We know the incumbent wins most of the time and we know the biggest donations go to the incumbent.. Also many donations pour in just because one person is ahead in the polls. It not clear to me whether the money sways the vote or the likely winner sways the money. I sure it’s clear to you just not to me.

ETpro's avatar

@Jaxk Politifact rated the headline “Occupy Wall Street protester’s sign says 94 percent of deeper-pocketed candidates win” as “Mostly true”. Granted 2010 was an outlier year in which the numbers were a bit lower, probably due to voter disgust with partisan gridlock and a sluggish recovery. The sentiment was, throw all the bums out.

But Politifact goes on to note: “Indeed, the percentage for 2010 was lower than it had been in recent election cycles. The center found that in 2008, the biggest spenders won 93 percent of House races and 86 percent of Senate races. In 2006, the top spenders won 94 percent of House races and 73 percent of Senate races. And in 2004, 98 percent of House seats went to candidates who spent the most, as did 88 percent of Senate seats.”

That’s why they rated it mostly true. As usual, you want to ignore the implications of data and quibble about minute details of it as if, when it’s off by a percent or two, then it’s somehow rendered completely irrelevant. Of course, that only applies to data that bucks your ideology. No matter how flimsy, any outlying data point that supports right-wing ideology is of vital importance and outweighs any conflicting data, no matter how massive the data set may be. I’ve learned how it works.

Patton's avatar

@ETpro My understanding is that the candidate who wins most of the time is the one who is most likable, and that this also happens to correspond to who gets the most money (because—go figure!—people give their money to people they like). This is what is suggested in Freakonomics, at least, which talks about the recurring failure of Steve Forbes to win the presidency despite his monetary advantages.

ETpro's avatar

@Patton This year’s presidential contest makes a great test. Think what you may about their policies, Barack Obama is imminently more likable than Mr. Etch-a-Sketch. My guess is that Obama will be ahead in the traceable donations from individuals and corporations giving directly to the campaign. But when you add in their SuperPAC funding, Romney is going to have a vast advantage, because his stated policy is to back the Ryan budget raising taxes and slashing benefits for the poor so the nation’s $1,000,000 plus earners can get an average tax break of $254,000 a year. And corporations will be deregulated so they can do whatever is most profitable, no matter who gets hurt or what it costs taxpayers to clean up the mess. That’s incentive enough to motivate the greedy.

Patton's avatar

@ETpro Yeah, but Romney is going to lose. He’s a sacrifice candidate so that the Republicans can get ready for when they don’t have to run against an incumbent. Just seems like more proof of the Freakonomics theory: money typically correlates to whatever gets people elected, but isn’t itself what does it. That’s why you can get these big money candidates who don’t win.

ETpro's avatar

@Patton It sure worked wonders to get Romney to the top with scorched earth advertising to destroy any and all who stood in his way. He won in a Republican Party that clearly wanted anybody but Romney. Why? Massive spending on advertising to smear his opponents, who were often outspent 10 to 1.

Patton's avatar

@ETpro “The voters want anyone but Romney” was the media’s story, but I don’t buy it. The Republican establishment didn’t want Romney, but the guy was up against Newt Gingrich (who has trouble winning popularity contests in his own home) and Rick Santorum (a late starter with an infamous Google problem). Consider the competition, and then consider the fact that 10:1 spending did not yield results with a statistically significant difference than pre-advertising polls suggested.

It’s true that advertising can make a difference by introducing information to people, but it’s not like 10:1 spending gets you a 10:1 increase in the vote. The reason to get all of this corporate money out of politics is not because money buys elections, but rather because money buys politicians. If we’re looking for corruption, then we’re focusing on the wrong part of the process. It’s what people do for their donors after they are elected that supports restrictions, not what happens during the campaign. That’s where the strong argument is.

ETpro's avatar

@Patton The Republican establishment DID want Romney from the start. It was the base that kept saying no, not the party bosses. I realize that it was a flawed field running against him. That’s why the establishment wanted him as the nominee. But even so, we had Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Donald Trump, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum all rise to the front-runner position before, one by one, Romney’s money machine dismantled them with a blizzard of negative ads. Republicans not wanting Romney was the press story because unlike Fox, the real media generally tries to report what is actually happening.

You don’t need a 10:1 jump in the vote to win an office. A few points is all it generally takes to swing an election one way or the other. The evidence that money matters in doing that is incontrovertible.

Patton's avatar

@ETpro From my reading of the primary, the Republican establishment was split. Some wanted Romney, some were just committed to him from his previous attempt, and many others did not want him. The revolving wheel of front-runners seems to reflect this split more than anything else.

And I never said that anyone needs a 10:1 jump in the polls to win an election. What I said was that the effect of spending was not at all comparable to the scale of spending. The point was only that lots of spending doesn’t get you very much. And since elections will still be high-priced affairs even without the corporate spending, focusing on the effect money has on the vote just doesn’t make for a strong argument against allowing corporate spending.

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