As I blogged yesterday, the Supreme Court heard arguments on whether Congress can pass laws abridging the free speech of corporations and unions. During the 2008 primaries, a conservative advocacy group called Citizens United produced a political film critical of Hillary Clinton and the FEC blocked them from airing it on cable TV, because Citizens United is a non-profit corporation. Ted Olson, who argued before the Court on behalf of Citizens United, points out that public discussion of electoral politics:
is at the core of the First Amendment's command that "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the Freedom of Speech." Yet Congress, in its zeal to impose onerous campaign-finance restrictions, has made political speech a felony for one class of speakers. Corporations and unions...
No surprise there. The mandarins of the political class don’t want anyone manipulating elections but themselves. It might interfere with their high re-election rates. Of course, such self-dealing is exactly what the Founders worried about.
Hard-charging campaign rhetoric is something that the First Amendment's authors had experienced firsthand. In making the choice between government-approved, polite discourse and boisterous debate, the Founders chose freedom. They did not say Congress could enact finely reticulated restrictions on speech. They said plainly that there could be "no law" abridging the freedom of speech.
The idea that corporate and union speech is somehow inherently corrupting is nonsense. Most corporations are small businesses, and they have every right to speak out when a candidate threatens the welfare of their employees or shareholders.