New York Daily News
The price of participation
When Sen. Mitch McConnell, lifelong friend of corporations and their political speech rights, had the gall to complain about Coca-Cola, Delta and others “bullying” the American people by speaking up against Georgia’s restrictive new voting laws, the appropriate answer from Democrats was “nanny nanny, boo boo.” McConnell, after all, had cheered the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which said companies have an unfettered First Amendment right to flood the airwaves or buy ads for or against candidates or laws — so liberals delighted in seeing the big-money tables turned on the old Kentucky turtle.
But liberals have their share of crow to eat, too. Those who’ve spent years fear-mongering corporate political speech as a bogeyman ought not get away with delighting when corporate leaders pressure politicians to change laws they disagree with. If Major League Baseball or American Express can throw their weight around making the case for or against a statute, they ought to be free to raise their voices for or against a candidate, provided they’re not sending cash directly to his or her campaign kitty.
Here in the opinion pages of a newspaper owned by a publicly traded corporation, we routinely praise, castigate and endorse legislation and politicians. It makes no sense to celebrate media companies’ freedom to express ourselves while fighting to curb the rights of companies that buy a small slice of a media platform in the form of advertisements or public statements crafted by well-paid corporate spokespeople.
Yes, it’s important to know, whenever possible, who is doing the speaking. Forced transparency is fully compatible with the Citizens United ruling; the high court made clear that government can require speakers to tell the public who they are, so they can “make informed decisions.” It matters whether it’s Exxon or Tesla arguing for or against a carbon tax, or for or against a candidate backing such a tax.
The public has the right to require disclosure of certain types of electioneering communications — but corporations have a right, an all-American right, to speak.