“Corporate political activity: Persuasion, coercion and that pesky First Amendment”

Brad Smith:

Richard Hasen has a thoughtful op-ed up at Reuters, commenting on the apparent disconnect between liberals who appear to hate corporate participation in politics (Citizens United is terrible) and liberals who like corporate participation in politics (hey, isn’t it great that corporate America has persuaded Republican governors in Arkansas, Indiana, and now Georgia to veto Religious Freedom Restoration Acts), and implying that conservative cries of “hypocrite” are misguided.

Professor Hasen argues, if I understand him correctly, that there is no hypocrisy because “corporations beforeCitizens United had an important role to play in the U.S. political system — and they continue to play that role. Thoughtful critics of Citizens United don’t contend that corporations should have no political rights.” Risking expulsion from the progressive movement, he later adds, “corporations can and should be part of the political conversation.”

Of course, many on the left are hypocrites, or at least very confused, when it comes to corporate political speech, for exactly the reasons some conservatives are saying. But Professor Hasen is surely correct in recognizing that there is another large group of liberals who have taken a more thoughtful and nuanced view of the issue, and Professor Hasen sets out to make sure that they are not dumped in with Move to Amend (“corporations aren’t people”) crowd. And this is good. It’s good that they exist, and it’s good to avoid lumping everyone into a single pile.

But while it’s good to make these distinctions, and while it is good that many liberals do recognize that people retain certain rights even when associating in the corporate form, and so eschew their more radical colleagues, I end up a bit baffled by the end game.


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