New York Times Editorial, Defending Free Speech for “Press” but not Other Corporations, Raises More Questions than it Answers

This November 19 New York Times editorial attempts to explain why the Times feels that some corporations should be free to spend money discussing candidates for federal office, but other corporations should not be free to do that. But the obvious question not answered in the editorial is “Who or what is press?” The New York Times seems to feel that it there is a clear line between press corporations and other corporations, but that is no such clear line.

Scholars find that when the First Amendment was written, “press” didn’t mean a certain category of businesses; it meant anyone who disseminates information via the printed page. Thanks to Rick Hasen for the link.


New York Times Editorial, Defending Free Speech for “Press” but not Other Corporations, Raises More Questions than it Answers — 18 Comments

  1. How many corporations of ANY type in 1776-1789 ???

    i.e. how many proprietor printers in 1776-1789 — newspapers, pamphlets, books ???

    Who was the first American printer to make attack ads in a post 1776 election ?

    See John Dunlop stuff in Philadelphia, PA working for the U.S.A. regime in 1775 onward – 2nd Continental Congress.

    Dunlop DOI original printed copies worth zillions.

  2. Richard

    Keep defending Citizens United v. FEC. Maybe some day a third party will be the one of its beneficiaries.


  3. The battle-cry of the revolution was “No taxation without representation” But, when property requirements for voting were eliminated in the 1830’s, citizenship was made a requirement, barring tax-paying aliens from representation. About the same time that they instituted the corporate income tax, they put the ban on corporate contributions. Maybe the compromise would be: allow tax-paying aliens to vote, and corporations to make campaign contributions.

  4. In Montana, Senator Jon Tester won re-election, saying we need to change citizens united, but his campaign benefitted for all that outside money. Tester certainly didn’t complain about that outside money. Politicians and corporations only complain when issues hurt them.

  5. 4 –

    I don’t know the particulars of Tester’s campaign, but I don’t doubt your assertion or disagree with your conclusion. I regard radical campaign finance reform as the most significant potential treatment for much of what ails our politics and governance, but unfortunately those who must be the agency of that change are those who are most dependent on massive monetary support to maintain their hold on elected office.

    However, this does not excuse those among us, like Mr. Winger, who would like to see change in our political system (including equal access to the process by thrid parties), but neverheless support such perversions of our process as Citizens United v. FEC. That is inexplicable.

  6. Unaware folks should take a look at Blackstone’s Commentaries (1760s) — the *Of Corporations* chapter in book I.

    i.e. one more TOTAL PERVERSION by the SCOTUS party hacks in the CU *opinion*.

  7. Supporters of Jon Tester spent over a million dollars, telling voters to cast their vote for the true conservative, Libertarian Dan Cox. There were TV ads and mailers, for Mr Cox, by those third party groups, that Tester, would to re-regulate, if he gets the chance. Otherwise his position was all show, designed to get votes. Typical politicians.

  8. If anyone can cite an original reference to any statement, made by any Founding Father or any American politician alive at the time the Bill of Rights was adopted, that they intended the right to free speech to be extended to corporations, please provide it here. Surely any originalist Scalia acolyte must have several handy.

    Alternatively, if anyone has a sketch, drawing or painting depicting a corporate “person” walking the streets of an 18th century American city, distributing political handbills, I will accept that as proof of Richard’s absurd defense of the Citizens ruling.

  9. Baronscarpia,

    Corporations are owned and controlled by people.

    These people have freely chosen to invest their capital in the corporations.

    To pretend that corporations aren’t voluntary groups of people is nonsense.

    To tell a group of people that they can’t use their resources for political purposes is anti-democratic.

  10. Baronscarpia,

    I also think you need to separate Richard Winger’s political leanings from this web site, which (the web site) is as far as I can tell is dedicated to open access to voters (without respect to political philosophies) to able to select from a wide range of candidates and philosophies.

    I am a strong believer in the concept of a marketplace of ideas where elections are used to sort out the short term winners. That political parties manipulate ballot access either for candidates or individual voters is wrong and the voters should strongly condemn.

  11. Steve –

    Tell you what. If you don’t already have a stake in, say, Dow Chemical…go out and buy ten shares. then try to use those ten shares to exercise your political influence and report back to us on your sucess.

    Also, read last line of the NYT editorial, which Richard chose not to include. It asserts, correctly in my view, that money and freedom of speech are not equivalent.

    Finally, it is unfair to imply that I have a general problem with Richard’s political leanings. Only his position on the Citizens ruling…and that only because it is most decidedly at odds with the objectives of promoting free elections, free access to the ballot, and in pArticular the success of third parties. Citizens ASSURES that third parties will never gain significant traction elections for federal offices.

  12. #12, the idea that restrictions on spending money on speech are themselves restrictions on free speech originated with the 1976 U.S. Supreme Court decision Buckley v Valeo.

    The U.S. Constitution does not, unfortunately, directly protect the right to vote. The closest thing in our Constitution is the free speech part of the First Amendment. Voting is expressive activity, even if it is secret, because the results are tallied and known publicly. Preventing someone from voting for the candidate of his or her choice is a limit on that voter’s freedom of speech.

    Any decision involving freedom of speech and elections, in which the Court finds that the First Amendment means that certain restrictions are invalid, is valuable. People who attack Citizens United are indirectly attacking a robust First Amendment in the elections context. It all hangs together. I am the first to agree, however, that the US Supreme Court is not consistent when it comes to election law vis-a-vis the First Amendment.

    My support for Citizens United v FEC is not some separate political preference of mine; it is an intrinsic part of the fight for free elections.

  13. The nearly dead U.S.A. Const defines who is an Elector for voting for U.S.A. Reps and Senators — i.e. such Electors have the RIGHT TO VOTE.

    See also 14th Amdt, Sec. 2 — denied / abridged — ignored by armies of brain dead lawyers and courts.

    The 1st Amdt has ZERO to do with ACTUAL VOTING for real candidates (each Elector putting an X on a ballot next to a candidate’s name) — one more giant *politically correct* perversion by SCOTUS in the 1960s and 1970s.

  14. Baronscarpia,

    Being voluntarily being a minority member of a corporation doesn’t give you the right to make decisions for the corporation. If you want to make the decisions you must become a major stock holder to start with. If you don’t like their decisions then sell your stock and don’t buy their product or service. But also don’t tell others what to do with their resources.

    Finally I never implied or said anything about your support or not for Richard’s politics.

  15. Given its close relationship to Mexican telecom monopolist Carlos Slim, maybe the NYT should have to register as an agent of a foreign power:

    Whatever the case, all the major press organs(whether “liberal” or “conservative”) seem to support the same policies of economic neoliberalism,”immigration reform,” bank bailouts and imperial hegemony of the US warfare state.

  16. 15 –

    So…the one with the most money gets the most free speech.

    13 –

    See above. And good luck achieving a stronger voice for third parties and their candidates. Never…ever…going to happen as long as their advocates are willing to sell free speech to the highest bidders. How on earth can you be such a…a…sap?

  17. #17, you seem to have a very low opinion of U.S. voters. If the most money determined who won, then Steve Forbes would have been elected president in 1996. Meg Whitman would have been elected Governor of California in 2010. Mitt Romney would have been elected president in 2012. You don’t think you yourself are influenced by whichever candidate spends the most money. Yet you assume other voters are inferior to you. And if you had the true courage of your convictions, you would identify your real name and/or give out a phone number, so we could have a reasonable phone conversation.

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