I'm James Maxey, the author of numerous novels of fantasy and science fiction. I use this site to discuss a wide range of topics, with a heavy emphasis on cranky, uninformed rants about politics and religion and other topics that polite people attempt to avoid. For anyone just wanting to read about my books, I maintain a second blog, The Prophet and the Dragon, where I keep the focus solely on my fiction. I also have a webpage where both blogs stream, with more information about all my books, at jamesmaxey.net.


Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Corporate Political Speech

Recently, the Supreme Court threw out about a hundred years worth of restrictions on political speach by corporations and opened the door to unlimited spending on ads by corporations and unions. Obama went out of his way to condemn the ruling during his state of the union, and pundits have generally panned the decision.

I, on the other hand, think it's a perfectly good ruling, and should be applauded. Opposition to the idea is based on the concept that corporate money will corrupt our politicians. Well, duh! It's happening right now, untelevised. Rather than purchasing ads, corporations purchase lobbyists who make sure that the friends and relatives of politicians live very comfortably. Compared to the present practice, an actual ad broadcast on TV for all the world to see would be a ray of sunshine. If Too Big to Fail Bank wants to spend a few hundred million to support a candidate, I think that's great. Once it's out in the open who the bank wants in their pocket, I'll know who to vote against!

My strong suspicion is that you'll see unions taking advantage of this more than corporations. Unions have pretty much gone all in on Democrats. When Republican's are in power, they don't have much voice. Corporations, however, tend to be a little more flexible. The money flows to whoever has the power. I don't think you'll see, for instance, Big Oil throwing all their advertising to Republican candidates because they know that political power ebbs and flows. They are going to want to make sure both sides like them.

Of course, corporations may not advertise for or against candidates, but might instead throw all their money into ads for or against specific laws. But, why shouldn't this be allowed? As long as the actual corporate sources are always identified (which the court ruling specifically allowed), I think that the public is going to be able to judge themselves if the needs of the corporation match their own needs.

It's true, that with more money, corporations can outspend private citizens. But, I've seen plenty of elections in my time where money didn't matter. When I lived in Greensboro, a collection of large corporate interests in the area decided they wanted to bring a major league team to Greensboro. They were going to use public money to build a ball park, and thought it was going to be an easy sell. They blanketed the airwaves with ads in favor of the ball park, they had ads on busses and in newspapers, they had PR firms in full gear selling the Big League Dream.

In opposition, there were just a few citizens groups with very little funding. They were outspent at least 20 to 1 on advertising. And when the vote came... it wasn't even close. The corporate giants lost and the little guys won.

So, don't panic. Corporate political advertising isn't going to bring about the death of America. It's the stuff going on off the airwaves that will kill us.


Loren Eaton said...

Very sensibly put, James. Nicely done.

想想 said...


Mr. Cavin said...

Well,but in Greensboro your illustration did not happen in anything like a vacuum. Shortly before, in burn recovery time, the taxpayers there had been mercilessly boned by the referendums enabling the porkification of the Greensboro Coliseum, supposedly to bring massive wealth to the triad area with the help of major league games and Billboard artists (and labor jobs and stuff and blah, blah, blah).

But, of course, out-of state contractors had come and cashed the checks and built a bloated arena that served quite nicely for all the country music stars and circuses we already had contracts with. (Mostly. There have been some notable things over the last twenty years, I guess. We had the ACC final, what, once?). Ticket sales soared, shutting out most of the monster truck sales, gentrifying Super Flea, etc. Opportunities are still diminishing there, I believe.

Anyway, taxpayers were primed to err on the side of caution after that. Thus no ball park till corporations came in and did it (but tax payers were saddled with clearing off the last affordable neighborhood downtown, right?) and of course it took forever to get anyone willing to pay for the Civil Right Museum, which is coming back to haunt Greensboro this week with a lot of "what took you so long, Johnny Reb"--type articles.

James Maxey said...

Thanks, Loren.

想想, I have no idea what you just said, but thanks!

Mr. Cavin! Thanks for chiming in. You are correct that the vote in Greensboro didn't happen in a vacuum. But, what vote ever does?

I really think that most corporations won't excercise the power to run political ads because the type of politics they prefer happens behind closed doors, not out in a televised public arena. Say an insurance company wants a law passed requiring all Americans to purchase health insurance. Do you really think they will run ads making this argument? Or will they send armies of lobbyists to capitol hill with briefcases full of campaign donations and wink wink nudge nudge deals?

To me, I don't so much believe we need campaign finance reform as we need political business reform. I would make it a law that any conversation between a politician and a lobbyist must take place in public, be recorded and publicly available, with no expectation of privacy. Hell, if it weren't for a little libertarian queasiness, I could probably be persuaded that all politicians be hardwired with webcams in their foreheads that record every moment of their lives and every conversation. Of course, the obvious argument is that this would be a horrible invasion of privacy on their families, but perhaps we could keep their families in a locked remote location for the duration of their service and only return them if the politician's behave.

Just brainstormin' here. I'm open to other suggestions.

Mr. Cavin said...


I wasn't so much disagreeing with you as I might have seemed. Nor was I really voicing a contrasting viewpoint. Really, I was presenting a more nuanced but still spun version of Greensboro referendum history that seemed to hew more closely to the reasons why voters rejected that ball field. Mostly, I wanted to rant about the annoying tone I was perceiving in February One articles about the Civil Rights Museum.

RE: "...no expectation of privacy."

I agree completely (and I think a lot of people would, at least until they consider that this has ramification on both sides of the fence. It seemed very much to me like President Obama made similar noises during his address, though I'm as guilty of reading between the lines of his intent as much as anyone else. Lobbying is certainly something that cuts into big corporate profits on a yearly basis and is probably considered a loss-leader to those counting dividends. I'd outlaw it in a heartbeat, but I'm sort of liberal on this one. Getting it out in the open would only be a matter of finding out how many pockets our electeds happen to inhabit, and seems like the second best option to me. But that's at least some progress. Whether it matters or not would primarily be decided by the ongoing apathy of those who bother to pay attention.

I'm trying to be as optimistic as you sound.

James Maxey said...

"Whether it matters or not would primarily be decided by the ongoing apathy of those who bother to pay attention."

Word. There probably is enough information already available about our elected officials and who they are beholding to for any citizen who takes a few hours to do some research to make smart, informed decisions. The fact that most people don't bother to do this research is one thing I can't really blame on politicians.