The Value Of That Citizens United Case

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Different people have different descriptions of what actually went down in the Citizens United case. For some, the screechier among us, it confirms the fascism of American politics as corporate plutocrats are able to buy elections and continued page 94. For others it’s hey, great, our side won.

What the Supreme Court actually decided was that groups of people have certain of the rights of individuals. Like this:

The Lincoln Project “will not be intimidated by empty bluster”, a lawyer for the group wrote late on Saturday, in response to a threat from an attorney for Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner over two billboards put up in Times Square.

“Sue if you must,” Matthew Sanderson said.

The New York City billboards show the president’s daughter and her husband, both senior White House advisers, displaying apparent indifference to public suffering under Covid-19.

Kushner is shown next to the quote “[New Yorkers] are going to suffer and that’s their problem”, above a line of body bags. Trump is shown gesturing, with a smile, to statistics for how many New Yorkers and Americans as a whole have died.

The Lincoln Project is some group of people. It is, leaving the precise legalese aside for a moment, a corporate body not an individual. Certain rights accrue to a corporate body, certain do not. The question is, obviously enough, which?

The Lincoln Project does not have a vote – there have been elections when corporate bodies did, it’s even possible that City of London still does for local elections. Note, again, that “corporate” here does not mean, necessarily and in my strange usage, “limited company”. Just a grouping of people combined for some reason or other.

The point of having such groupings of people recognised in the law is so that they can be granted such rights. For example, you cannot sue a cat in court. Not a person, courts only deal with persons. But we rather like being able to sue, say, Exxon, so we need some form of making Exxon, a grouping of people, into a person that has rights and also obligations in the courts.

So, we have the concept of a “legal person” and a “natural person”. A natural person is a human bean who has rights just because they’re a peep. A legal person is some cobbled together idea so that the whatever it is gains some, but not all, the rights of a natural person. The most obvious one being legal personality and thus access to and suffering under the systems of the law.

Which then brings us back to well, which rights? The legal person doesn’t gain a vote. OK. It does get to hire lawyers and file writs. OK. Now, about those other rights that might be available. Access to an abortion? Not really relevant but no. Freedom from unreasonable search and seizure? I don’t actually know. How about free speech?

Which is where Citizens United comes in. Yes says the Supreme Court. Legal persons do gain that free speech as natural persons. Well, OK, not exactly the same but roughly so.

At which point the Lincoln Project can, in an election period, put up what are quite obviously distinctly political posters even though it’s a grouping of people, a grouping without the vote.

Oh, and so can other groupings of people who make up a legal person. Like, say, Exxon.

What Citizens United was not about is whether corporates can buy elections. Rather, which rights of a natural person also accrue to a legal person? And yes, the Lincoln Project is a legal person just as Exxon is and so, therefore, they have a similar ability to avail themselves of whatever those rights that accrue to legal persons are.

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Spike
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Spike

The “Lincoln Project” comprises Democrats with just enough Republican credentials to wage false-flag attacks. They not only want Trump to lose but the Senate to flip Democratic to usher in a period of “cleansing” the Republican Party along Democratic lines.

The problem with these billboards is libel, as certain of the ads invent quotations. In the US, proving libel against a public figure requires a showing of malice. Taking a quote out of context, and showing a pol smiling at a statement that is not why he was smiling, is not libel but something New Yorkers are inured to.

Barks
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Barks

Since Cuomo has essentially shut NYC down the billboards would have limited impact except for the media using photographs to bash the President.

thefat tomato
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thefat tomato

Did PDJT use corporate donations, allowed under citizen’s united, in this election or the last election?
He does not appear to have the support of a lot of corporate donations.

Spike
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Spike

The Citizens United case affirmed that corporations can “speak” freely, in that case, making a movie that disparaged Hillary Clinton. You can regard it as an in-kind contribution. Cash contributions from corporations are limited, as contributions from individuals are. Gadfly stockholders often demand a vote at the annual meeting that a company report its contributions or stop making them entirely. The push to “repeal Citizens United” is a misnomer, as you don’t repeal the First Amendment, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, with a simple statute. It is shorthand for a campaign to make the corporation’s charter require that the… Read more »

Bloke in North Dorset
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Bloke in North Dorset

I won’t provide a link because the spam filter’s are quite keen but this is from Cato: “First, Citizens United didn’t reverse a century of law. The president [Obama] was referring to the Tillman Act of 1907, which banned corporate donations to campaigns. Such donations are still banned. Instead, the decision overturned a 1990 precedent that upheld a ban on independent spending by corporations. That 1990 ruling was the only time the court allowed a restriction on political speech for a reason other than the need to prevent corruption.” And also from Cato here’s what Spike was referring about movies… Read more »

Spike
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Spike

Corporate contributions to individuals are regulated – I thought this was much more recent and was based on the law that created the Federal Elections Commission (maybe the “1990 decision” Bloke mentions). It instantly spawned the evasion called “Political Action Committees.” These can electioneer at will, provided you can’t prove they ever coordinated with a candidate’s committee. There are also a ton of TV ads that are not “campaign ads” at all; they go, “Call your Congressman and demand to know where he stands on”….

jgh
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jgh

in UK law such legal persons are specifically recognised and are specifically required to register as “legal persons with political views” with the Electoral Commission, otherwise they are breaking undue political influence laws. Of course, registered means they are then bound by election laws and can sue and be sued for breaking such election laws. Unfortunately, UK plod take very little interest in election crime, the most I’ve ever managed is to get a written slapped wrist sent to the offender for damage to private property. The Electoral Commission themselves are a bit more proactive and have the power to… Read more »