Robert Reich on the hostile corporate takeover of the First Amendment

Writes Reich:

“A funny thing happened to the First Amendment on its way to the public forum. According to the Supreme Court, money is now speech and corporations are now people. But when real people without money assemble to express their dissatisfaction with the political consequences of this, they’re treated as public nuisances and evicted.”

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Comments (18)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/16/2011 - 03:29 pm.

    He’s right on target.

    Here in Minnesota, at least in the Twin Cities, far more media attention is being given to a billionaire real estate developer’s dream of a taxpayer-subsidized stadium in which overpaid athletes can play in front of crowds that pay that developer not just for the privilege of watching the game in person, but also pay him to park their cars after paying for the roads they drove to the stadium on in those cars.

    Minnesota’s purported leaders are falling over themselves to try to devise a solution to the stadium issue that isn’t quite so egregiously public robbery for private gain as it would seem at the moment. The relevant question, directed at leaders of both / all political parties: How many “ordinary citizens” are part of that behind-closed-doors discussion?

  2. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/16/2011 - 09:52 pm.

    Again, the American way:
    one dollar, one vote.

  3. Submitted by James Hamilton on 11/17/2011 - 10:01 am.

    The complaint appears to be that one side can of a debate can disseminate its arguments more broadly than another, because it has more money. Put another way, one group can write letters to the editor and the other can buy the newspaper. So? Money’s always affected the ability to persuade. Get over it and get on with making your own message heard however you choose to do so. Just remember that every means of expression comes with a cost.

    Trespassing on privately owned property (e.g., OWS) has its costs, as does any form of civil disobedience engaged in to make a point. When you trespass, you’re there at the owners’ sufferance. Typically, the trespass is intended to result in arrest and publicity. (e.g. the Honeywell protestors). When you choose to occupy a public forum (e.g. the Hennepin County Government Center plaza), you can expect to be subject to the same conditions imposed on others using it.

    As a political economist, Reich has many good points to make on the state of our economy. When it comes to his opinions on free speech, his opinion bears no more weight than that of anyone else, unless, of course, he’s been hiding his law degree and constitutional law scholarship under a basket. In which case, he should discuss the law, not complain that his opponents have bigger bullhorns.

  4. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/17/2011 - 12:51 pm.

    It’s refreshing to see a member of the democrat establishment step up and claim ownership of the Flea Party movement. Their attempts at claiming to be simply interested observers was causing my eyes to ache from so much eye-rolling.

    But Reich needs to be reminded that the 1st Amendment provides the “right to peaceably assemble” not the right to indefinitely occupy.

    That said, unlike most taxpayers, I don’t want the authorities to break up this amusing collection of useful idiots. They serve as performance art of who they represent and who supports them.

  5. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/17/2011 - 01:14 pm.

    “Money’s always affected the ability to persuade. Get over it and get on with making your own message heard however you choose to do so.”

    How much money did Lincoln and Douglas spend on their campaigns? Money has always been a factor, but mass communications has greatly magnified its effect.
    One’s choices in making a message heard are dependent upon one’s available financial resources. It’s no coincidence that the leading candidates on the national level are independently wealthy.
    The only alternative is backing by people like the Koch Bros.

    It is different on the local level — there one can run a political campaign on a shoestring. If you want to move up, however, you need professional fundraising.

  6. Submitted by Jim Roth on 11/17/2011 - 04:56 pm.

    Dennis, I appreciate your views and your right to express them but name-calling and labeling are not helpful except to the faithful.

  7. Submitted by chuck holtman on 11/17/2011 - 05:02 pm.

    It happens that 1st Amendment rights, even in public places, are subject to “time, place and manner” (TPM)_restrictions. So as much as I applaud and support the Occupy folks, I don’t think they win on the law. Whether this TPM authority is being applied pretextually, of course, is another matter. Personally, I think a huge tactical error is being made by the Occupy folks. They should have claimed victory, packed up and gone home for the winter, and spent a few months strategizing and planning for the next stage, in the spring. Instead, regrettably, they’re at risk of becoming a punchline.

    Mr Hamilton (#3), I disagree with you that one cannot make a principled objection to the maldistribution of speech based on wealth. The Supreme Court’s earlier, more thoughtful discussions of the 1st Amendment always emphasized that free speech (particularly political speech) enjoyed elevated status because of its critical role in furthering a healthy democracy. Buckley v Valeo turned this notion on its head, declaring that speech must be protected for its own sake, even when its protection dooms democracy. It’s of course been all downhill from there.

  8. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/17/2011 - 05:13 pm.

    Good for you, Dennis. You have just summed up the Republican Party’s principles of today better than anyone else could. Your name-calling and palpable disdain say it all. It’s all about “Us” versus some demonized “them.” “They” are just a bunch of idiots whom you should treat alternately with amusement and contempt. “Their” rights are subject to careful limitations, and are an inconvenience to “Us.” Do “they” have legitimate concerns? “We” think not! Let them get jobs, jobs that would be there for the asking if “Our” taxes were only lowered and any government regulation gutted unto impotence. “They” are not fellow citizens with whom we might disagree, “they” are trash.

    Well done. Successful propaganda always requires dehimanizing the opposition. That’s a lesson you seem to have learned well. Of course, a far more productive course for the country would be to elarn to bridge, rather than exacerbate, political and cultural divides. That’s out of the question, isn’t it? You might have to admit that “They” have the right to do something other than get out of your way (and pay taxes to spport private businesspeople with government contracts, right?).

  9. Submitted by James Hamilton on 11/17/2011 - 05:22 pm.


    Campaigns certainly were different in Lincoln’s day, but the Lincoln-Douglas contest was for a Senate seat in 1858.

    Once Lincoln had the Republican nomination in 1860, he let others travel the country on his behalf. Newspapers were partisan tools at the time, with no attempt at objectivity. You’ll find an interesting account of Lincoln’s presidential campaign here:

    The following paragraphs are from

    Between the time Lincoln was nominated and the election in November, he had little to do. Members of their party held rallies and torchlight parades, but such public displays were considered beneath the dignity of the candidates. Lincoln did appear at one rally in Springfield, Illinois in August. He was mobbed by an enthusiastic crowd and was lucky not to have been injured.

    A number of other prominent Republicans traveled the country campaigning for the ticket of Lincoln and his running mate, Hannibal Hamlin, a Republican senator from Maine. William Seward, who had lost the nomination to Lincoln, embarked on a western swing of campaigning and paid a brief visit to Lincoln in Springfield.

  10. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 11/17/2011 - 05:51 pm.

    Reich is raising a good point about the Supreme Court’s double standard for First Amendment liberties. Corporations and the wealthy (the 1%) get one higher standard for “spending money” as a First Amendment liberty and a different, lower standard for human beings (the 99%) exercising their actual right of speech, including “symbolic speech.” For the 99%, their right of free speech may be regulated as to “time, place and manner” which means the right of Free Speech can be regulated to the point of non-existence with the burden on the human whose right is being infringed to prove that it has been totally taken away. The corporate and wealthy 1% American’s right of Free Speech is subject to a strict scrutiny requirements which requires the government to present “compelling reasons” why such regulations should be imposed. Two standards, two laws, two Americas by this plutocrat Supreme Court.

  11. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/17/2011 - 08:23 pm.

    I think that you make my point.
    Things have NOT always been the way they are now in regard to the costs of campaigning.
    Candidates for Senate seats now typically spend millions of dollars campaigning; most of it on media ads.
    Even adjusting for inflation, I doubt that Lincoln or Douglas spend a hundredth of that.
    What you describe sounds more like a campaign for a state legislative seat now.

  12. Submitted by John Reinan on 11/17/2011 - 09:24 pm.

    All you need to do is remember the pathetic “free speech zones” that were set up at the 2008 GOP convention in St. Paul and have been used in other places as well.

    The authorities create an unappealing, hard-to-get-to reservation in a backwater that’s vaguely in the same general vicinity as the event, but situated so as to guarantee that most of the people attending will never visit it unless they make a determined effort to seek it out.

    I seem to recall that the second Bush administration pioneered this gambit when they thought there would be demonstrators at an event the president was attending. But now it’s in the playbook of every government at every level.

  13. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/18/2011 - 07:46 am.

    Uh, Mr. Reinan, that “free speech zone” idea was the brainchild of the democrat-run Saint Paul city government. Probably because as democrats, they knew that the young and the clueless wing of the democrat party couldn’t be trusted to behave themselves in a civilized society.

  14. Submitted by John Reinan on 11/18/2011 - 09:49 am.

    Read what I wrote, Dennis — you’re being too quick to take partisan offense. I didn’t indicate which party did or did not set up that free speech zone at the GOP convention — I just objected to the very notion of it, ending with “now it’s in the playbook of every government at every level.”

  15. Submitted by CJ McCormick on 11/18/2011 - 10:12 am.

    Mr. Tester:
    It’s called the *democratic* party.

  16. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 11/18/2011 - 08:53 pm.

    # 14: Nothing says “civilized” like putting your opponents in the cross hairs of rifle sites and having your followers show up at your opponents’ rallies carrying heat.

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