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Should We Limit Corporate Political Spending?

Op-Heads: a virtual chat on issues that matter


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In the clip above, watch part of a discussion between Bob Zelnick and Graham Wilson. Click here to see the full version. To watch the long version, click here. To watch the edited version, click here.

In a decision likely to have profound political consequences, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week that the government cannot limit spending by corporations or unions in political elections. The response to the verdict was immediate and noisy. President Obama said it “strikes at our democracy itself.”

“The last thing we need to do,” said the president, “is hand more influence to the lobbyists in Washington or more power to the special interests to tip the outcome of elections.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called the change in policy a “monumental decision” that would “restore the First Amendment rights of [corporations and unions] by ruling that the Constitution protects their right to express themselves about political candidates and issues up until election day.”

Who’s right? Who’s wrong?

BU Today asked two political experts to share their views on camera. Bob Zelnick, a College of Communication professor of journalism and national security affairs, supports the court’s decision; Graham Wilson, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of political science, isn’t so sure.

Edward A. Brown can be reached at ebrown@bu.edu. Art Jahnke can be reached at jahnke@bu.edu.


4 Comments on Should We Limit Corporate Political Spending?

  • republicanblack on 01.27.2010 at 12:48 am

    YEs it Hurts us

    This story is ok, but it does not go into how the court came about this decision neither does it show the history behind the decision. We have it coming, if you think corruption is bad or corporations have too much say wait till the next election, but check out this article and see the answer to how and why?


  • Josh on 01.27.2010 at 8:17 am

    This is one of the worst rulings I have heard in a long time, on par with the ruling that a corporation can speak as a person. Can you imagine a company such as Pepsico or Aetna being afforded the same rights as a person while being even more able to influence political spending nationally? It just makes no sense.

  • Anonymous on 01.27.2010 at 9:09 am


    I have a friend who grew up in the USSR. He told me that his history teacher used to say that America was doomed, because it had two constantly fighting parties (instead of one unified), but Republicans are evil and Democrats are stupid, so nothing good can come up from that fight for American people. It is a good feeling knowing that my friend’s history teacher was wrong. By the recent Supreme Court ruling America has now only one party, a Fortune 500 party. Of course, formally the ruling is broader, but the essence of it is simple, and it is not about the freedom of speech, it is about limits on influence money can have on politics. There are no limits!
    I am not saying that this a bad thing for America, on the contrary, maybe this party will finally unite the government and reanimate the market, who knows. Anyway, the Fortune 500 party is still the best party in the world. I am just stating the fact that now, sixty-five years after Eric Arthur Blair told us that ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS, we finally got courage to openly and legally accept this fact (well, humans do belong to animal world, too).
    Since September 17, 1787 it has been “We the People of the United States”. And from January 21, 2010 it is “We the People and Corporations of the United States”. Of course, corporations we are talking about are not buildings or equipment. Corporations are board members who make decisive votes.
    There are hundreds of millions people in America who execute all the rights provided by the Constitution, including the right to support political figures with their own money. All these people now became second-class citizens. The first-class citizens now are several dozens thousands or so Americans (or not) who serve on the boards of big corporations. These first-class citizens have all the same rights as regular people have. However, now, in addition to old fashion constitutional rights, these people have the right to influence political process by using money which do not belong to them personally, i.e. corporative money.
    There is no need to be upset or angry. Anybody can become a first-class citizen, too. Just set up a corporation, and you are golden! Well, having several billions dollars would not hurt either; otherwise the new party will reject your application.

  • Abram Trosky on 01.27.2010 at 3:28 pm

    Learning by experiment...

    …is, in this case, Social Darwinism. It is not corporations that desperately needed to be treated as individuals; it is the shameful number of suffering and underprivileged Americans that need to be recognized as such by their representatives, elected and unelected (the justices). Thinking that either the short term needs or long-term interest of the latter will be addressed, in trickle-down fashion, by having the former purchase more influence is a dangerous fantasy. Understanding that not all corporations are businesses but that those most eager and already able to sway the political process are, one must acknowledge that their goal of profit maximization is only obliquely related to the goals of substantive democracy–enfranchisement and the expansion economic rights.

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