03 February 2010

Above the Fray

I haven't commented here on President Obama's inappropriately direct criticism of the Supreme Court in his State of the Union. Clarence Thomas, who said that he does not like to attend given the partisan natures of the State of the Union address, defended the Court's recent decision involving corporate giving to political campaigns. This New York Times article has an excerpt. Particularly interesting is this bit of historical context for some of the overturned legislation, a 1907 law which restricted corporate giving in campaigns:

He added that the history of Congressional regulation of corporate involvement in politics had a dark side, pointing to the Tillman Act, which banned corporate contributions to federal candidates in 1907.
“Go back and read why Tillman introduced that legislation,” Justice Thomas said, referring to Senator Benjamin Tillman. “Tillman was from South Carolina, and as I hear the story he was concerned that the corporations, Republican corporations, were favorable toward blacks and he felt that there was a need to regulate them.”
It is thus a mistake, the justice said, to applaud the regulation of corporate speech as “some sort of beatific action.”


A.J. said...

So ... I am not saying that Obama's criticism is ok (though not sure why it is not), but working for a big corporation this does worry me that they can donate an unlimited amount. Because big corporations will donate a large amount on the basis it is profitable to them. Seems as though it could be dangerous. And if they want free speech rights like an individual, etc., perhaps boards should be criminally prosecuted for illegal actions like individuals are. Like in Singapore ... not saying it is a good idea, but where do we draw the line?

Jlowryjr said...

In my mind the inappropriateness was more an issue of time and place.

It's like when someone says "With all due respect," when they actually mean "I don't really have much respect for you." Obama referenced the separation of powers and his respect for it, and then, in a highly politicized speech, criticized the court's decision on political and not constitutional grounds.

Like you, I think companies should be accountable for their actions. That is why this issue could be addressed with strict disclosure requirements OR a constitutional amendment. That may be the appropriate way to address this.

Thomas' point was that if an individual is protected, and a group of individuals enjoys protected speech, at what point does the group get so large that the first amendment doesn't apply? Is it when they incorporate? His point is that the Constitution provides for no such limit.

Thanks for your thoughtful comment, as always.