Technology, Money… and Rights [Part II]

Unfortunately, the problem of “rights” is even larger than just religion, as adjudicated in the Hobby Lobby case, because first amendment to the Constitution also states: “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” The Roberts Court has effectively declared in the case of funding political campaigns that restrictions on contributions are a restraint of freedom of speech. The problem with the Court decision is that it doesn’t address the question of what occurs when the combination of massive amounts of money combine with high technology to assure that the predominant publicly disseminated “speech” dealing with elections is that of the wealthiest one tenth of one percent of the population. In effect, the multi-million dollar megaphones of the rich drown out the views of anyone else. Yes, those without that kind of funds can speak, but their words go largely unheard.

In certain respects, this isn’t a new problem. Because of their position and wealth, the founding fathers had greater access to the press, and often used it, at times not in the noblest of ways, to further their own interests and ends, but because of the lack of instant communications, a press that was largely local, and diverse regional interests, none of them had access to the entire society either continuously or in real time, nor did they have the ability to buy ink and exposure in all media outlets in all states. They could not and did not conceive of the media concentration and penetration that exists today. Their interest was to assure that all views had a chance to be heard.

Yet in citing the Constitution to allow unlimited political contributions and “independent” political media expenditures that are effectively unlimited by individuals who can keep the amount of their contributions hidden, as well as their very identity unknown, the Roberts court has effectively undermined the very goals of the founders in crafting and adopting the first amendment, because the combination of money and technology effectively diminishes the freedom of speech of those who lack both money and access to technology, and, not incidentally, diminishing any public “right to know.”

Yet the far right trumpets this as a victory for free speech when it is really a victory for anonymous plutocratic propaganda.

3 thoughts on “Technology, Money… and Rights [Part II]”

  1. R. Hamilton says:

    I’d actually agree to the following extent: no limits (except only US citizens for elections, or US “entities” (people or corporations) for non-candidate-related issue ads), but immediate and total transparency. If you donate to a political campaign (or issue), you’d better be prepared to have zero privacy over having done so – that’s the consequence of money equals public speech.

    I think that might actually make politics a little more civil. Donors would not want those on either side inciting over-the-top behavior that might be directed at them.

  2. Josh Camden says:

    When you equate dollars to free speech, those with more dollars get more “free speech.”

    The most dangerous thing to a democracy is a demagogue; allowing ultra-large donations from single sources only serves the demagogues.

  3. Darcherd says:

    The other disturbing legal precedent is the enlargement of the rights of corporations and other organizations as “persons” under the constitution. Corporations were created for the laudable purpose of limiting liability, thereby encouraging risk-taking and entrepreneurship. But to stretch that now to say they have the same full Bill of Rights protection as a human being seems perverse, especially since the corporation is exposed to far fewer of the liabilities and consequences of their actions than is a person. Not only is a corporation limited in the degree of its financial exposure, but a corporation cannot suffer jail or capital punishment (though I suppose they can be fined out of existence, which would amount to the same thing).

    I like the notion expressed above about transparency – it does seem fair to require disclosure about who is speaking and/or funding the speaker. I heard one suggestion made – only partially in jest, I thing – that political candidates be required to wear their sponsorship on their apparel similar to race car drivers. That way we’d know who was being bankrolled by big Pharma, who by the NRA, who by teachers unions, etc.

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