The Free and Fair Elections Resolution Promotes Free Speech
Opponents of the Free and Fair Elections resolution are arguing (see transcript) that the Constitutional Amendment the resolution seeks is an attack on free speech. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Amendment, if proposed and ratified, will promote freedom of speech for ordinary citizens and voters, by preventing artificial entities such as corporations and unions from spending billions of dollars to drown out the voices of actual voters.
- A cherished principle of our political system is the “one person, one vote” rule (Baker v. Carr, 1962). The influx of billions of dollars to our political system through the independent expenditures authorized by Citizens United has replaced that ideal with “one dollar, one vote.”
- Depriving artificial entities of the right to spend money on electioneering communications can only be viewed as an “attack on free speech” if you assume that those artificial entities are people, with the same political rights as people.
- But corporations, and other artificial entities, are not people. That isn’t just common sense: that is also the law of Wyoming as expressed in the Wyoming Constitution adopted 150 years ago:
“All powers and franchises of corporations are derived from the people and are granted by their agent, the government, for the public good and general welfare, and the right and duty of the state to control and regulate them for these purposes is hereby declared.” – Wyoming Constitution, Article 10, section 2
We got this right! Article 10, section 2 says that corporations are subordinate to people. They derive their powers and rights from the people and, through the government, are subject to regulation “for the public good and general welfare.” Nothing in this language suggests that corporations have the right to drown out the voices of the people who created them.
- For good measure, the people of Wyoming, when they enacted our state’s Constitution, made it clear that the rights it guarantees belong only to flesh-and-blood human beings: “In their inherent right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, all members of the human race are equal.” – Wyoming Constitution, Article 1, section 2.
- Opponents of the Free and Fair Elections resolution argue that corporations should have the same rights as people because “corporations are made up of people.” That argument is overly simplistic, because it ignores the fact that the corporations are made up of people with divergent interests; for example, the interests of shareholders, officers, and employees are often in conflict with each other. For which group of people does the corporation really speak?
- But more importantly, the Free and Fair Elections resolution does not deprive the people in the corporation from using their own voices! Every one of those persons can speak on political matters in their own voice, and should not fear having their individual voices drowned out by the corporate voice speaking through the megaphone of virtually unlimited dollars. Shareholders shouldn’t be given an additional (and very loud) voice simply by creating an artificial entity.
- The amendment we seek only seeks to regulate political speech by artificial entities; it would not affect their commercial speech.
Corporations can’t vote! They should not be allowed to spend money to influence elections.