Is Anyone Else Extremely Concerned About Yesterday's Supreme Court Decision?

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | January 22, 2010 12:29 pm

Corporations can now spend freely in federal elections. Given the US government is supposed to represent its constituents, I fear we’ve just taken an disastrous great leap in the other direction.


Comments (70)

  1. Pete

    I fear you’re right.

  2. CW

    I don’t know, I’ve always felt that corporations didn’t have any say in our political process.


  3. Chrysoprase

    I fear it will now be near impossible to ever get away from special interests.

  4. In a Word:


    More to the point, however, is the question of how Democrats will ever again be able to accomplish anything politically in this country. If you really think about what Democrats (and many Progressives) want to push as part of the political agenda, those issues are anathema to corporations. Does anyone really believe that, freed from the campaign finance restrictions, we won’t now see issue and attack ads from Insurance companies, or coal companies, or vehicle companies all designed to preserve our too big to fail, too stupid to succeed corporate culture? Will Bank of America now wade into Congressional fights and seek to punish those that spoke out against them during the bailout process?

    And here’s a direct question for my conservative interlocutors: How is what the Supreme Court did yesterday DIFFERENT then the “judicial activism” that judges appointed by Democratic Presidents are accused of?

  5. Austin L

    I’m curious to see how employees of corporations react to their employer funding a candidate of political office that the employee doesn’t support, knowing that their efforts are directly contributing to a candidate without them having much of a say in the matter. Or will this not be an issue?

  6. BradB

    Sheril – I share your fears. At a time when we desperately need effective controls over financial mega-corporations and corporate influence-peddling in general, they can now open their pocketbooks and “buy” Congressional support. What a travesty! I fear it is one step closer to a big business oligarchy in our country–where our voices don’t count anymore, only the contributions and agendas of major corporations. Oh….wait! WE’RE ALREADY THERE!

    So sad…..

  7. Jon

    I agree.

    One thing to keep an eye on is the bills that Barney Frank and Russ Feingold are working on. They’re going to try and change the statutes companies operate under. Apparently this is a separate legal area, and doesn’t concern the “free speech” rights of corporate “persons.” Barney Frank seemed to be saying on Maddow that he thought he could plug most of the gaps, although it sounds like not all of them.

  8. Billingham

    I wish the decision had gone the other way, but I struggle with the constitutional arguments made by the minority. This wasn’t a money=speech argument, that would allow limitless direct donations to parties. This is more limited, to whether corporations do have direct speech rights.

    I hate the policy side, but it’s tough to overcome the Constitutional arguments.

    Unless someone – Congress – would be willing to take the radical step and deny corporate personhood.

  9. Sorbet

    I agree, it’s pretty bad. As if we were simple itching for more corporate influence in the political process.

  10. tommyl

    What I find most interesting here is the idea that corporations are citizens, individuals. As such, the free speech argument makes a little sense. If this is a corporate right (as a citizen) then what are the responsibilities (and liabilities) that go with it? Kinda opens the “but some animals are more equal than others” idea.

  11. Busiturtle

    I guess this means that NBC, the National Broadcasting Corporation, can now continue its electioneering for Democrats. This must have been a great relief for Chris, thrill up my leg, Matthews.

    Since a corporation is just an assembly of people (investors are people too) with a shared interest and since the constitution explicitly protects the right of assembly I’m somewhat confused by the alarmism.

  12. Adam

    I feel more like it’s solidifying something we’ve already been living with. When was the last time you really felt like a politician was working for *you*, and not whoever could get them back into office? I think Obama’s a good counterexample for my argument, but I’m thinking specifically about Congresspeople.

  13. BartonCreekBett

    Dam those terrible corporations meddling in the political process. What are you people afraid of? I watched hours of mindless SEIU Union funded PAC health care commercials and still voted to send Scott Brown to Washington to stop it.
    The corporations do not control my mind. I can tell fact from fiction. The issue is the Dems want to control their message through “chosen media outlets” as David Plough, Obama;s campaign guy, says and not have other competition in the information game.

    At the end of the day, Foxnews haters, what is better? The first amendment of the constitution where the right to free speech is upheld and individuals and corporations can create infomercials or documentaries about whatever the heck they want OR the elected government officials at the FEC deciding what is and isn’t political speech and who is and is not entitled to speak?? Imagine if George was back in the Whitehouse and sequestered Michael Moore for creating a political documentary.

    So it is fine for Michael Moore to create nonfactual documentaries and bend and twist facts, but if someone besides CNN, MSNBC, or FOXNEWS engages in nonfactual dialogue they should be criminilized??

    Oh wait MSNBC and CNN only tell the truth, they don’t bend stories to gain inside access like David Plough says they did in the campaign

  14. kathi w


    Excuse me, what?? This means the coal companies will throw more money at candidates who are in favor of mountaintop removal & oil companies will throw more money at candidates who want to drill in ANWR. Pick an issue. And what about the foreign companies operating in the US? Since when do foreigners get to vote in our elections? Since yesterday, when the Supreme Court ruled to let corporations have the same rights as individuals. How can I, as an individual, make a difference? I can’t anymore cuz money talks and BS walks & I’m just small potatoes. Dig?

  15. @Billingham: that’s exactly what Congress must do: deny corporate “personhood.” Suggest to all taking a look at the movie “The Corporation” for a straightforward assessment of how corporations gained the rights they currently have (

  16. Robert Leopard

    These activist judges are nominally applying the constitution to corporations. The problem is that corporations when the constitution were written were both small and temporary.

    Corporations should not have any protected human rights – they are not human. States once closely controlled corporations but Delaware let the competition for corporations by not regulating them and all states had to follow suit.

    Read David Cay Johnston’s Free Lunch and Perfectly Legal. Listen to him on NPR or

    It’s past time for a consitutional amendment ending “free speech” for corporations.

  17. Jon

    Speech is fine. It’s the combination of money and politics that need to be kept on a leash. Money is not speech, otherwise bribery would be perfectly legal.

  18. Busiturtle

    Jon? Jon Corzine? Is that you?

    How many Republicans have bought themselves a senate seat, decided that wasn’t good enough for them and went out and bought the governor’s mansion?

  19. BartonCreekBett

    The American people are not mindless robots. I know the always their democratic majority vote is but when it comes down to the average every day American they can figure things out for themselves and are not as easily susceptible to influence. I know it is hard for over educated people to realize but if your premise is people only make up their minds via attack ads you are a political science major.

    People realized the Republican’s were starting to dole out the BS on their own and no amount of FOXNEWS or PAC ads saved them in 2006, 07, and 08 at the ballots. Likewise no amount of MSNBC and CNN and Union PAC ad BS could save the democrat’s majority. At the end of the day the American people in the bluest of blue states made up their own mind just like all those what used to be red districts turned blue in 2008.

  20. BartonCreekBett

    Speaking of propaganda, this line sounds like the beginning of a joke:

    “He declined to blame the 25 authors and editors of the erroneous part of the report , who included a Filipino, a Mongolian, a Malaysian, an Indonesian, an Iranian, an Australian and two Vietnamese. ”

    I am sure none of them got grants, loans or handouts from any government or non-profit corporation to keep publishing more of this stuff

  21. CW

    @ Busiturtle,

    Some people are alarmed. I think many are confused by people praising this action, and proclaiming this a victory of free speech for corporations? I can’t think of an example where corporations have been negatively impacted by restrictions on campaign donations, with regard to free speech.

    On the other hand, does this mean that corporations won’t need to use lobbyists anymore? They can just go right to the politician and promise $$ for political actions that benefit them. It’d be nice to see lobbyists have to go and get a real job now.

  22. BartonCreekBett

    Best article I have read on the subject, at CNN no less. Explains the “facts” not the hype machine

    best quote:

    “It has never been easier for groups of citizens to swarm together and flow money through the Internet toward campaigns and candidates who excite them. Ask Ron Paul — or more relevantly, Barack Obama — what’s more powerful: $10 million from Dr. Evil Industries, or $10 each from 1 million people who can actually vote?”

  23. Dave

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    Sorry to get all technical here, but it says pretty clearly that Congress shall make no law “abridging the freedom of speech.” It doesn’t say “of citizens,” “of groups of citizens,” etc.

    Now, admittedly, there have always been qualifiers on the freedom of speech– the “yelling fire in a crowded theater” deal. And of course there are other restrictions on speech– libel, classified information, etc.

    But political speech is political speech is political speech. If it’s protected in one area– individuals– it’s protected elsewhere, i.e. corporations (which are merely collections of individuals… just like unions, just like churches, just like newspapers, etc.).

    The solution here, as in everything, is not to levy more restrictions– it’s to permit more freedom *in plain and public view*, i.e. I don’t care how much a corporation, or a private citizen for that matter, donates to anyone– I just want there to be full, public disclosure of that fact. Then the voters can judge whether it matters to them that General Electric or Ford Motor Company or Bob’s Bakery in Baltimore donates gobs of money to candidates.

  24. moptop

    Meanwhile, Discover Magazine Corporation is free to push its point of view on AGW unrestricted in this perfect world of yours? Just curious.

    Also, Unions are allowed to … well, you can fill in the rest.

    What about GE? They own a suite of networks which pushed for Obama’s election, and stand to gain billions of dollars through regulations that, for instance, make it illegal to use any jet engines besides those made by GE under they guise of green regulation.

  25. Ron Paul — or more relevantly, Barack Obama — what’s more powerful: $10 million from Dr. Evil Industries, or $10 each from 1 million people who can actually vote

    Not to overlook the point that these candidates are rare exceptions to the rule, but who got face time with the president during the health care debate, Big Pharma or the million little people?

  26. Jon

    what’s more powerful: $10 million from Dr. Evil Industries, or $10 each from 1 million people who can actually vote?

    I’m sure the CEO of D.E.I. (soon to be changing it’s name to Atria) is just a normal guy, equally as powerful as any of those 1 million.

    And especially when DEI joins the Consortium of Normal Americans Against Things We Don’t Understand (or NAMBLA), and appears on their website in fine print.

    Also I’m sure his company’s mission of moving his Doctor Evil Soap and Dr. Evil Viagra off his factory floors is *much* more important than anything that could be moving the 1 million people to donate.

  27. Jon

    Discover Magazine Corporation is free to push its point of view on AGW unrestricted in this perfect world of yours?

    Yes, and I hear Discovery promotes the theory of a round earth, as well. The flat earth supporters believe Discovery is just trying to get in good with Hollywood and other round earth elites.

  28. Pericles

    In my opinion, yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling was logically dubious, and will likely have a number of negative consequences stemming from it.

    The argument that the majority in this decision made (Chief Justice Roberts, and justices Alito, Scalia, Thomas, and Kennedy), that those campaign finance rules restricted free speech, seem like they are built on shaky logic. Yes, corporations are, legally, artificial persons, but, from what I understand, that only affects issues like stockholder liability and taxation. They do not have the same civil rights that citizens of this country enjoy (like U.S. citizenship, or the right to vote).

    That opens up a whole Pandora’s box. For instance, just by using the same line of reasoning that the court’s strict constructionists (Alito, Thomas, Scalia, and Roberts) used on this case, what other civil rights could artificial persons like corporations potentially be granted?

    Of course, even excepting those potential issues, there will most likely be real negative consequences. While most corporations will be understandably reluctant to spend a lot on political advertising in an election (it would most likely give them negative publicity, and might adversely affect their revenues), there will likely be times where some would want to do so.

    For instance, if there was a bill in Congress that might adversely affect a whole industry’s profitability (e.g. a health care reform measure that would reduce insurance companies’ profits, or a financial reform bill that would do the same thing to investment banks), why wouldn’t companies in it spend a few hundred million dollars (or a few billion) on election-related advertisements against Representatives or Senators who were in support of said measure, or for those who opposed it?

    As an example, insurance companies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars opposing the health care reform measure that is currently making its way through Congress (via lobbying, commercials, and the like), because if passed it may reduce their profitability. If they are willing to spend that much on that, why wouldn’t they go one step further and fund numerous political ads during elections as well?

    It’s true that they might suffer some negative publicity from it, but, especially if their actions resulted in a more favorable outcome at the polls for them, why wouldn’t they do it?

    I’m not even including the unintended consequences that will result from this decision. There will be some, though it’s anyone’s guess at this point what they will be.

    I’ll grant that America’s system for regulating campaign finance had issues (that Bush exposed in 2000, when he refused federal matching funds for the presidential primaries, and that Obama exposed in 2008, when he turned down federal matching funds for that year’s general election). It needed to be repaired and strengthened.

    But, the decision that Chief Justice Roberts and justices Alito, Scalia, Thomas, and Kennedy announced yesterday very likely made this country’s problems with campaign finance much worse. I only hope that Congress and the president are able to do something to repair some of the damage from it.

  29. bilbo

    Speech is fine. It’s the combination of money and politics that need to be kept on a leash. Money is not speech, otherwise bribery would be perfectly legal.

    You can’t get much more clear-cut than that. Jon wins the best post award again.

  30. Tuatara

    Does a corporation breathe, eat, metabolize, love, cry, or have children, ? Then how can these entities be regarded as people?

  31. Thomas L

    Well, teach people HOW to think rather than indoctrinating them into WHAT to think and it would not be much of a problem (well, except for those whom seem to feel dissent is somehow evil and a sure sign of a lesser intelligence…). Generally people are pretty good at figuring out when they are being sold junk, though the level of dependency we have instilled is rather shocking to me and makes me wary of the possibility to overwhelm things. When one’s first instinct is to question rather than accept, it matters much less who is telling one what to think. The individual will be much more likely to expend the energy to figure it out for themselves rather than to think, as many do now, that they are being fed unbiased information.

    I think the worry is a bit overblown in the greater scheme of things however because it isn’t like we’ve never dealt with this state of things before – the law that got overturned was but a few decades old. Thus the results are actually not outside the political landscape that has prevailed in prior times. I’m also not sure why the business viewpoint should be considered any less valid than others which were not limited by the overturned law. Besides which it isn’t like everyone hadn’t already pretty much figured out how to go around the limits anyway.

    While I know many find fault with the “corporation is a person for legal issues” ruling, as do I, there is also the very real literal mountain of legal doctrine based on such. To overturn it would lead to chaos in the business world, much of which would be very disruptive to almost everyone. Love it or hate it, it is the law of the land and there is no indication it will ever be overturned, so learn to deal with it and all its consequences. Much more productive.

  32. Ah, the well-trained corporate peons are out in force today. Totally delighted that the speech of citizens is now guaranteed to be overwhelmed by the well-crafted howls of fear and smear from entities that only care about the bottom line.

    These are the same folks who would have argued against abolition because it violated slave owners’ property rights. Because, you know, love it or hate it, slavery was the law of the land and there was no indication it would ever be overturned and to overturn it would lead to chaos in the business world, much of which would be very disruptive to almost everyone.

  33. Thomas L


    That’s about the lamest thing I’ve ever read in here. It takes a true ideologue to connect anything I said with slave owners.

    The ruling has been the law of the land for well over 100 years, and short of a constitutional amendment (not exactly the easiest thing to accomplish, and not likely to happen anytime soon) it is what it is – with all its consequences (and those consequences include over 100 years of case law…). Being annoyed about it does little good. Learn to deal with it (and you can still work towards overturning it in the meantime), but also understand it is no longer simply that ruling you are talking about. It would literally upend almost every understanding on business & contract law we have – no small “change”, and one that may well be more destructive than beneficial. My wife is an attorney, and she has, through numerous conversations, helped me to understand just how complex the issue is and how chaotic a situation such an overturning would cause.

  34. ARJ

    Scalia/Thomas… the worst things to ever happen to the Supreme Court, well… EVER!

  35. Busiturtle

    What is most surprising here is the assumption that America’s largest corporations embrace “right wing” politics. That is certainly not the case. At best or worst it can be said that corporations embrace politicians who support their interests and history shows that corporate America has been very successful at getting what it pays for.

    If anything this rejection of congressional regulation favors the tens of thousand of smaller companies who now can participate in the political realm without jumping through the legal hoops that larger corporations have mastered. The current laws were a farce. They weren’t preventing corporations from influencing the political process, they only made the contributors play by the politicians rules.

    Just an anecdote but consider the past election, before McCain-Feingold was struck down:

    Obama raised $14.8 million from Wall Street in the 2008 election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics — more than any politician ever, and more than George W. Bush raised in both of his elections combined. From the fattest cat, Goldman Sachs, Obama raised $997,095, more than four times McCain’s Goldman haul and more than any candidate has raised from any single company since the McCain-Feingold campaign finance regulations.

  36. Guy

    I think some people are confused about what this means. It is certainly NOT a partisan victory for the Republican party. Instead, it is a victory for soulless corporations, enabling them to override the voices of millions of people with cold-hard cash.

  37. Busiturtle

    To Guy:33

    You should not be so pessimistic. Who were the soulless corporations backing Scott Brown? Was it not in fact Marcia (I mean Martha) Coakley who sauntered off to a big bucks pharmaceutical industry fund raiser the week before the election? Mass. voters sized up the two candidates and decided Brown better represented THEIR interests than the rubber stamped Coakley.

    Democracy is supposed to be messy. It is better that many ideas be allowed to compete in the marketplace than just those “approved” by a congressional subcommittee. You will never take the money out of politics. Rather than pretend it can be done through Rube Goldberg regulations why not trust the people to sort through all the messages – it is not as if the airwaves are already not saturated with political ads anyways!

    By the way, what is it about corporations that makes them more soulless than any other institution? Are Universities administrations soulless? What about government bureaucracies? The neat thing about corporations is that when one does not treat its employees and consumers well it goes out of business. When is the last time that has ever happened to a government bureaucracy?

  38. SLC

    Let’s thank Ralph Nader and the morons in Florida and New Hampshire who voted for him for this decision. Their votes sent Roberts and Alito to the Supreme Court.. The rest of us will not pay for their stupidity. And don’t tell me that Gore would have appointed justices just as bad. Note that Justice Sotomayor, appointed by Obama, voted with the minority. Thanks a whole bunch Nader clowns.

  39. bad Jim

    The climate denialists also turn out to be corporate apologists. Quelle surprise.

  40. Well, SLC, how do you use Nader to explain Max Baucus and his effects on health insurance protection legislation?

    How do you explain a so called progressive like Barbara Boxer who, when questioned on subsidizing big agricultural companies, stated that “we have our cotton people and our rice people”?

    Or, to better illustrate my point, why did the US Chamber of Commerce spend over$100 Million last year on lobbying?

    Hell yes, I am concerned. Phillip H. (comment 4) had it right.

  41. Guy


    It will make it easier for corporations to manipulate the legislator to serve their interests. The politicians party affiliation won’t matter, except on the surface. Those trying to go against the wants/desires of the corporations will face a inflated amounts of their opponent’s campaign funds. Campaign finance translates into more ads, which (statistically) means more votes. Forget grassroots organizations being able to out-raise special interests groups. The special interest have a lot more money to throw around, and that is compounded by their returns on the investment. It is a system that will result in increased corruption at an exponential rate.

  42. kathi w

    OK, here’s another good writeup posted tonight on Slate: Money isn’t Speech and Corporations aren’t People.

  43. blake

    this dailykos thread has somehow been placed at discovermag!


    umm, how can it get any easier for corporations to manipulate legislators? you just described a situation that already happens.

    and to all of those that think the dems are concerned about evil corporations, i might ask you to wake up. do you really think they are any less “on the take” than the repubs?

    i am confused as to why so many of you think that special interests are good, except when evil corporations are the special interests.

    all this scotus decision says is that corporations play by the same rules as all of the other special interests lobbying for “reform” that just happens to help them. and one question i have is if those of you aghast at this decision were equally aghast that corporations such as News Corp and New York Times Inc were exempted from these rules from the beginning?

    you guys dont need to worry, all of your statist dreams will still be fulfilled. you guys dont realize that large corporations love socialism mixed with crony capitalism just as much as you do. it may not be exactly as you like, but your representatives wouldnt have it any other way.

    ill finish by quoting the economist (another evil corporation) on that ideal M-F act;

    “Big firms with expensive lawyers can usually navigate the system, but small players flounder. In the states, campaign-finance laws have been used to stifle debate. Prosecutors in Washington state claimed that favourable radio coverage of an anti-tax campaign was a “donation” that the campaigners should have disclosed. In Colorado, a group of homeowners protesting against plans to incorporate their neighbourhood into a nearby town were sued for not registering as a PAC. Both groups won, but they needed lawyers.

    The effect of the law, said Justice Kennedy, is that “a speaker who wants to avoid threats of criminal liability…must ask a governmental agency for prior permission to speak.” That, he said, was “analogous to licensing laws implemented in 16th- and 17th-century England” which is precisely the sort of thing that “the First Amendment was drawn to prohibit”.

    The new ruling leaves several restrictions intact. Corporations may not donate money directly to candidates. Electioneering messages paid for by a firm must clearly disclose that firm’s identity. Individuals face strict limits on how much they may give to a candidate, so the kind of big donations that jump-started Eugene McCarthy’s anti-war candidacy in 1968 are still illegal. Incumbents still enjoy a huge fund-raising advantage, and very rich candidates who can pay for their own campaigns enjoy an even bigger one. McCain-Feingold has failed utterly to keep money out of politics. The last presidential election was the most expensive ever.”

    But keep on dreaming up ways in which corporations cause all of the ills you perceive

  44. Thomas L

    Another interesting look at the ruling: But really, they are already spending huge sums through their creation and use of various PACs, the never ending and innumerable 527s, and we shouldn’t forget about their various associated trade groups – all of which are used to raise tremendous amounts of money that they then spend on issue ads now. So what really changed other than they can do it directly instead of all the smoke and mirrors in the above? If anything thinking that the law wouldn’t end up being a first amendment issue is what is surprising.

    There really is a lot of naivety being shown in here about how things in our system actually work. It was an interesting attempt to control spending, but it already failed in real ways, the ruling changes little in the actual real life working of the world.

    And again, while I am not personally supportive of the idea of “corporate personhood”, the reality is such developed to resolve very real issues. It has in fact been an established part of our legal thinking for a VERY long time, and there are and where actual reasons such was deemed necessary. You know, things like enforceability of contracts, liability issues when you are dealing with shareholders instead of sole proprietors or partnerships (as in limited liability issues), the right to own property and even hire employees. The first U.S. court case holding such was in 1844. Do any of you really think they are going to overturn 166 years of legal precedent – and all the understandings sense created? They aren’t talking “person” as in you and me, they are talking “legal person”, which does have limits, but is generally held to have the same rights as an individual. That was pretty much considered a settled issue by 1886…

    The ruling was very much in line with 124 years of court thinking. There is nothing “revolutionary” in it, and it has little to do with who is currently on the bench.

  45. SLC

    Re Wes Rolley @ #41

    What do Senators Baucus and Boxer have to do with Supreme Court nominations? Of the 4 votes against this abomination, Ginsburg and Breyer were appointed by Clinton, Sotomayor was appointed by Obama. Is Mr. Rolley trying to suggest that President Gore would have appointed someone like Roberts or Alito, not to mention Thomas and Scalia?

  46. Mitch

    So I guess 527 groups, PACs, and unions are entirely disimiliar to corportations regarding free speech and are not considered special interest groups themselves to most of the posters here?

  47. Linda

    Although the Supreme Court is supposed to be neutral, the vote was split
    5 – 4 along party lines. The vote is a total regression.

  48. BartonCreekBett

    What do you think the people extremely worried about human caused global warming are the same people extremely worried about “Evil” corporations. I bet they only come out of their social cocoons and have a conversation with someone of an opposing viewpoint once every five years.

    Did their parents not tuck them in or talk to them so they feel the need to be manipulated like puppets by a big information warfare machine called MSNBC and Even Huufpost, politico and other very progressive sites are now a day or two later agreeing that this was not such a bad deal and freedom of speech for all isn’t so bad.

    This ruling actually simplifies things and lets corporations go direct and not have to work through layers of PAC and 527 groups as well as lobbyists.

    I still don’t understand how some people think everyone can be controlled and manipulated by freaking commercial or docudrama. The ones who fear this are obviously applying their view of life as fact for all others. Well 98% of the rest of the population is very capable of thinking for themselves and making their own decisions, the rest, well go back to the cocoon.

  49. toasterhead


    I should be livid, I know. But I’m not.

    I don’t see what this changes. We’re moving from a system in which corporations run our government covertly to one where corporations run our government overtly. What’s the difference?

    Democracy died a long time ago.

  50. Guy


    I don’t often read sites like dailykos or huffingtonpost. They are little too far to left and unscientific for my tastes.

    The bottom line is what most corporations care about. They generally don’t care about the public interests or the greater good. Profits come first and all other considerations are thought of as PR fluff. It isn’t that corporations are “evil” or anything like that. They typically are cold-calculating constructs that only care about shareholder value. When you grant them unchecked power they will abuse it. That’s just the way it is.

  51. Randy

    The issue is not just whether corporations are good or bad, but rather the amount of political power they yield compared to average citizens. The CEO of a corporation that donates $10 million to a political candidate possess far more power than each of the 10 million people who contribute $1 to an opposing candidate.

    In our political climate, the actual voting process is coming close to playing a secondary role to fund-raising in determining election outcomes. Campaign contributions are the key way to exert political power.

  52. Thomas L

    Yep, looks like all those big bad companies can’t wait to spend even more on campaigns…: “Dozens of current and former corporate executives have a message for Congress: Quit hitting us up for campaign cash.” ( They seem to think the ruling is going to lead to even more pestering by those already elected for cash, and surprisingly most of them actually support public financing legislation – obviously because they just love getting all those calls asking for funding from the politicos.

    Those of you who think politicians and big business are not already in bed together really just don’t get it. They already hold far more sway than may here seem to realize.

  53. Jon

    They already hold far more sway than may here seem to realize.

    Right. No one here knows they hold sway.


  54. BartonCreekBett

    The underlying issue Liberals have with this decision is their underlying philosophy that all people are dumb robots except for themselves that went to an Ivy League school and stayed in the university system studying theories and so they know better. If people have to think for themselves and their is no centralized control of everything they can’t comprehend it. The shear concept of competing ideas frightens them so much because their is no control of ideas and they think all people who aren’t Ivy educated are idiots. I agree a vast majority are, but they already vote democratic consistently. The rest of us get up go to work and live and breath reality and could give two dumps about Ivy league schools and politicians and we learn more working for a living in one day than a semester or two of college teaches about real people and real problems ever could.

    Thinking that evil greedy corporations want to destroy the world and win all the money just shows how out of touch these academics are with reality. There is a vested self interest in these corporations to keep society free and although some companies get bigger than others they always tend to collapse when they get to be to big for their britches. Kinda like universities across the country right now that are being forced to deal with the reality of broken budgets and no more politicians left to buy off for a quick easy out. Take health care, the end result of this mess is not going to be government control of health care, it would be a disaster. If you pay attention what people and Insurance companies want is more competition not state mandated policies. Consumer Driven Health care will be the winner. It puts people in control of their own destiny however scary that might be, to spend their business with what ever insurance company they want. And if the insurance company buys off congress, it may take a few years but people will find a better smaller company.

    One day you science types will realize the reality of the situation that this government is a living breathing animal and corporations are part of it, a very good part. Watch the Haiti relief efforts. I see huge cargo planes carrying more supplies than 1,000 pack mules ever could. Drinking straws with filters for instant bacteria free water. Huge tent cities that are better accommodations than anything most of these Haitians ever lived in. Your telling me that if corporations where allowed in and offered the opportunity to compete freely they wouldn’t fix the situation with jobs and prosperity due to self interest.

    No of course not, what Haiti needs is more big government, more UN, more Government run corporations because that has really gotten them far these last 20-30 years.

  55. Thomas L

    Yes Jon, once more you show you almost read what was said. I did not say anyone didn’t think they already hold sway – I said they already hold far more than many think. The ruling doesn’t change that simple fact.

  56. BartonCreekBett

    So corporations hold so much sway, they spent hundreds of millions of dollars in 2006 and 2008 electing Obama and democrats. Then to prove their sway they got mad and now will spend a few hundred million dollars in 2010 and 2012 to get rid of them and place in republicans?

  57. Jon

    One day you science types will realize the reality of the situation that this government is a living breathing animal and corporations are part of it, a very good part.

    Wait a second–didn’t we recently almost live through the Great Depression II ? If it weren’t for some Keynesian policies earlier this year, the world would be dealing with bread lines and pressures for statist governments.

    You guys should be thanking the cooler heads in our post-New Deal liberal state that we don’t have 1930’s-style anarchy right now. Even Alan Greenspan admitted that he had an ideologically conditioned blind spot and didn’t see what was coming.

    I’m not saying that corporations are necessarily “bad”, it’s just that their job is to maximize shareholder value and outcompete others trying to do the same, even if that means engaging in a “race to the bottom” and taking risks that may crash the economy at large (see Tragedy of the Commons, The).

  58. Jon

    The ruling doesn’t change that simple fact.

    It didn’t change “the fact” that corporations influence politics. It just gave them a lot more than they had before. You can read two lines of Stevens’ dissent and get that.

  59. BartonCreekBett

    I think the simpler picture of the great depression II was a four strike problem that regulators began not regulating, bankers became hedge fund investors, securities were engineered by book educated MBA’s instead of intellect and people blindly turned way to much of their money over to pensions, annuities, 401K’s and the like managed by more of said MBA’s on the simple fact no one wanted to deal with it.

    I know many MBA’s and studied with them. The best way to sum up the MBA factory is the first year is a drunken riot running around passing canned multiple choice tests and the second well a drunken riot running around being an intern do mindless secretary work.

    Andrew Lahde the hedge fund guy that pocketed several billion for his fund shorting all the junk securities that blew up said it best in his farewell letter:

    “What I have learned about the hedge fund business is that I hate it. I was in this game for the money. The low hanging fruit, i.e. idiots whose parents paid for prep school, Yale, and then the Harvard MBA, was there for the taking. These people who were (often) truly not worthy of the education they received (or supposedly received) rose to the top of companies such as AIG, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers and all levels of our government. All of this behavior supporting the Aristocracy, only ended up making it easier for me to find people stupid enough to take the other side of my trades. God bless America.

    Let’s not let the system take care of us, let’s remake the system every 20-30 years and keep evolving. The huge banks should have and I think still will blow up and a new common sense institution will take it’s place.

  60. kelly

    What is this madness? A corporation is only a business entity to escape direct personal liability.

    It is exactly not a person “deprived of freedom of speech”.

    Let every individual incorporate themselves so only the incorporation papers need serve imprisonment for felonies deemed necessary after buying elections and ‘terminating’ opposition.

  61. Jon

    Let’s not let the system take care of us, let’s remake the system every 20-30 years and keep evolving. The huge banks should have and I think still will blow up and a new common sense institution will take it’s place.

    Something like that makes sense if the institutions don’t take the whole financial system down with them. Remember the Nazis we fought in World War II? They wouldn’t have come to power if it wasn’t for the Great Depression I. This is a post by David Frum, a conservative:

    Also, the “regulators began not regulating” because of very real policy choices of people like George W. Bush, Phil Graham and Alan Greenspan. According to hard core free market ideologues, there is little or no need to regulate.

  62. Seminatrix

    The underlying issue Liberals have with this decision is their underlying philosophy that all people are dumb robots except for themselves that went to an Ivy League school and stayed in the university system studying theories and so they know better. If people have to think for themselves and their is no centralized control of everything they can’t comprehend it. The shear concept of competing ideas frightens them so much because their is no control of ideas and they think all people who aren’t Ivy educated are idiots. I agree a vast majority are, but they already vote democratic consistently. The rest of us get up go to work and live and breath reality and could give two dumps about Ivy league schools and politicians and we learn more working for a living in one day than a semester or two of college teaches about real people and real problems ever could.

    I never completed college, I “get up and go to work and live and breath(sic) reality” every day of my life and I’m about as die-hard of a liberal as they come. I never went to an Ivy League school, and I never wanted to.

    Oh, wait. I see that BCB just lumped everyone who doesn’t vote conservative and isn’t Ivy League educated an “idiot.” So, I guess that means I’m an idiot.

    Nice to know stereotyping is alive and well in Conservative Land.

  63. Guy

    BCB is just promoting anti-intellectualism. The basic concept is that person “working” for a living has more real knowledge of how the world works than your average PhD does. It is a deeply flawed philosophy. People who earn a doctorate degree are dedicated to learning how the world works. They frequently observe the real world and are exposed to much larger body of knowledge. So the experience vs study argument just doesn’t hold up under closer inspection.

  64. BartonCreekBett

    Guy, I hear you and agree that higher education exposes one to a much larger body of knowledge. The problem is that this higher learning has become commercialized by the “evil” corporations and money hungry academic administrations. In as little as 1 year I can get a masters and in 2 more I can have a PhD all the while never stepping foot into a classroom.

    I then go get a University job and tenure and begin teaching others as if I have real world knowledge of subjects. The current administration only has 7% of it’s cabinet members / advisers ever having actually had a real job outside of government and academia. On the other hand 40% have masters degrees and 30% have PhD’s. They had great theories on how to fix things and create utopia but now that they actually have to implement it, none of it works.

    And Seminatrix, stereotypes are alive and well all across this land. The only way to tear them down is to communicate with others outside of your views, which is what I am trying.

  65. Jon

    They had great theories on how to fix things and create utopia but now that they actually have to implement it, none of it works.

    I didn’t hear that Ben Bernake and Tim Geitner wanted to create a utopia. Wasn’t that ex-Ayn Randist Alan Greenspan’s schtick back in the day? (For years he wrote for her newsletter.) That kind of view didn’t seem to serve us very well recently, did it?

    As for Phd’s, no doubt lots of book larnin’ can be a bad thing or a good thing in different cases. But having absolutely none of it makes you economically and historically illiterate (for instance knowing next to nothing about the Great Depression). Even Republicans are concerned about this kind of illiteracy these days.

  66. Jon

    Greenspan was really thick with Rand for a while:

    As far as Utopianism goes, Bernanke has nothing on Greenspan.

  67. Thomas L

    Way back when I was finishing my undergraduate degree (mid 80’s) the change over from undergrad to work and then returning for grad school was in the process of dropping the work for awhile part and instead the idea of just going straight into grad school was starting to become very popular (of course the late 80’s recession made staying in school more enticing as jobs were scarce anyway…). For the hard sciences I actually don’t think it matters as much – while working in a corporate lab may be beneficial for many reasons (personally I think it is beneficial for everyone to have some idea what really goes on in the private sector so they can be better informed voters and understand the workings of society better…), for scientific ability it likely matters little. I still feel the same way I did back then in regards to all the MBA’s however – practical knowledge is incredibly important when learning about management. I remember talking to a young lady who worked for me (I had worked up into the position of store manager) who’s boyfriend was going straight on to grad school – neither of us understood what he was going to learn there when he had absolutely no managerial experience to base his thinking on. It would be like studying science in books and never doing any lab work until one received an advanced degree…

    In other words, while it might not have come out as well as intended by those above, there is actually some truth to the underlying criticism. I think we have greatly underrated how much “real world experience” can teach, and at times overblown how much can be learned in the absence of such.

    Guy, yes – they study it. Actually doing it is far harder than studying it and there is no magic formula or theory to it. It is no longer a mystery to me why so many business attempts fail within the first couple years – by far the most I ever learned was learning how to actually make a business work. While having learned how to think and being educated helped, as did previous managerial experience – I also had to toss out a substantial amount of what I had been taught in the process. If one could simply follow a recipe few would fail. An incredible number of very successful business types haven’t got a whole lot of education, and quite a few very well educated types fail miserably at business – even though we as a society have difficulty acknowledging such.

    Jon – glad you are learning economics, but you have to dig back much farther than just Greenspan, and start taking a look at how much government itself is responsible for a lot of what is going on (Freddie and Fannie – and all the games played with them for over 40 years now for example…). You can’t blame “free markets” when they have been anything but free for a very long time. Yes, they need supervision and meaningful oversight and regulations that are well thought out and actually enforced – so I’m not saying chaos reigns. The problems go much deeper than what you suggest though. It’s not about simple “greed”, nor is it simply a Democrat or Republican issue – both parties have failed us in this one. The Federal Reserve is itself quite a large part of the problem – again. Remember, this is our third attempt at such…

    And Greenspan, Volcker, Bernake – whoever is heading the Fed matters less than implied in several posts – there is a board, everything they do is actually a vote. Think of the head sort of like our President. Some power to direct, but hardly the one responsible for the end result – though they are the one expected to do the talking, generally get the credit and the blame…

    On a general note I thought many might find this article interesting, it’s about the problem of dealing with technology in science:

  68. Thomas L

    Why mixing science and activism is just a really, really bad idea (hope you see this Chris Moody…):

    While I don’t agree with the alarmists I do think there has been some good science done (just not the temperature data history reconstructions or the modern reconstructions using temperature stations – there are just way too many problems and the lack of method transparency is disturbing…), but with stuff like this the real anti science types are going to have a field day. It doesn’t take very many of these “incidents” to really undo a substantial amount of the trust science requires to function at all.

  69. wjv

    I agree with comment #8 Billingham:

    This decision is all within constitutional grounds, the problem that you are seeing here wouldn’t exist if corporations were not persons. Removing corporate personhood is the real battle here, yet it receives little attention in mainstream conversations.


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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at


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