October 8, 2010
The Charleston Gazette -- 'Speech': Campaign cash

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court contend that money is "speech." Specifically, they say that buying campaign ads amounts to free speech, so it's improper to put limits on the amount of buying -- uh, speaking -- that anyone may do.

Moreover, in this year's controversial Citizens United case, the high court ruled that corporations are persons, entitled to spend -- uh, speak -- all they wish in campaigns.

(If corporations are people, why can't they run for office? Could Massey Energy file for governor of West Virginia? Could IBM run for U.S. president?)

In a sarcastic essay titled "Speak, Money," the latest Harper's magazine asks: "By what logic can a corporation be granted personhood and the constitutional right to speak money, yet be denied the constitutional right to vote?"

The Citizens United decision let business firms pour company cash into political campaigns. Corporations traditionally back Republicans. The ruling also let labor unions spend member dues in campaigns -- presumably for Democrats -- but unions are penniless, compared to corporations.

The Supreme Court breakthrough even lets businesses hide their identity as they funnel cash to front committees that buy smear ads. To halt this concealment, Democrats in Congress drafted the Disclose Act, which would force big donors out into the daylight. They still could spend freely to buy elections, but they could no longer hide from the public.

The House passed the Disclose Act, but Democrats in the Senate twice could not overcome Republican opposition. "Not a single Senate Republican and only two in the House have been willing to vote for the Disclose Act," the San Jose Mercury News noted.

The Senate is expected to try again after the election -- before more winning Republican senators take their seats. We hope the bill finally passes. It's disgusting that firms now can spend millions of company money to sway elections, under the silly pretext that such spending is free speech. At least, they shouldn't be allowed to hide while they do it.

Hidden money paid for a current ad, for which a Republican producer issued a casting call for "hicky" actors to portray West Virginians. Surely, the public deserves to know who's paying for such baloney.

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