Thursday, July 23, 2015

An annoying neighbor helps explain the need for limits on corporate campaign spending

A humorous tale helps explain a bigger problem

A man in Portage was recently arrested -- for a second time -- for spreading the “Good News” of Jesus Christ to his neighbors.

The first occurrence of his arrest was reportedly for doing so in the nude.

The second occurrence was different (and is why I bring it up) -- Scott Salzman, the person in question, was knocking on neighbors’ doors at 5:30 in the morning, trying to spread the Gospel to the people of Portage.

Officers told Salzman that he can’t preach to neighbors at such early hours. He was charged with disorderly conduct under Wisconsin Statute 947.01(1).

Salzman or anyone else is certainly free to go door-to-door to promote their religious message. That right is enshrined in the Supreme Court case Cantwell v. Connecticut.

But his First Amendment rights -- specifically, his speech rights -- are not absolute. He’s free to hold his opinions and to disseminate them to his neighborhood and beyond. But he is restricted, at some level, by common sense barriers, in this case the notion that his neighbors might not appreciate a wake-up call to talk about Jesus (or anything else for that matter).

OK, so what’s the point of all this? Why am I talking about the speech rights of some guy bothering his neighbors in Portage?

The point is simple: speech rights aren’t absolute. The burden on where and why speech protections cannot reach certain points is on the state to prove, of course, but rights aren’t sacrosanct if they interfere with others' livelihoods.

An annoying neighbor preaching at unholy hours of the morning isn’t protected speech.

Nor is corporate influence in our campaigns.

The Citizens United decision decided five years ago by the U.S. Supreme Court mistakenly granted corporations unlimited purchasing power of our elections. It allowed corporate mega-donors the ability to give any sum of money to third party advocacy groups. And it did so by deeming that their speech rights were being unfairly impeded.

This unrestricted new power that corporations gained is thousands of times more dangerous than a guy just wandering the neighborhood talking about Jesus, and here’s why: so-called “corporate speech” drowns out your voice, my voice, and anyone else trying to express themselves during political campaign season.

A 30-second commercial aired a gazillion times by a front group with a patriotic name (“Americans for a More American America” would be a good one to use as a joke, were it not real) will outweigh a thousand donations from real people.

It’s gotten downright disgusting, affecting even municipal and school board elections across the nation.

There needs to be honest and real reform of our elections. It starts by recognizing that money isn’t speech -- and that campaign contributions, especially from corporations, needs special attention.

Regulation of excessive campaign spending isn’t suppression of speech -- it's merely common sense, necessary for ensuring that the exchange of ideas isn’t itself stifled.


  1. When one person shouts and rants and dominates in a meeting, the proper thing to do is to kindly but firmly say, "Thank you for being a good member of our community and speaking your mind. Now you need to sit down and let others speak." In our society in general, it is time to tell our loud corporate mouthpieces, "You've had your chance, now you need to sit down and let others be heard."

  2. Okay obliviously you forgot our history there is to be no taxation without representation. aka Boston Tea Party . So I then propose if you want no corporate money in elections then their should be no taxing of said businesses. I Like that. That would allow my company to increase my wage and benefits. Also before you blame corporations better take a look at the amount unions spend on elections there is like 67 of them that spent more money then the Koch brothers but we never hear about that

  3. I never said I wanted absolutely NO corporate money in elections. I said there should be LIMITED corporate influence, and that's a wide spectrum. That might mean an absolute restriction on corporate donations, that might mean a restriction similar to what individuals face now. What I don't see as proper is an absolutist approach to money from corporations (or unions, for that matter), allowing them unlimited "speech" in the form of drowning out individual contributions. Right now, corporate donations effectively mean that corporatists are using loudspeakers while actual, legitimate speech by a citizen is drowned to a whisper. Your taxation without representation analogy isn't sufficient, either -- a corporation can be taxed precisely because it isn't a citizen, and it isn't granted citizenship rights.