[Debate] America: Sponsored by McDonald’s

In an effort to engender educated conversation, the Opinion staff will debate pressing election topics.  Future debate topic idea?  Email Zach Brown at zbrown@samford.edu.

Positions are determined by coin-flip.  Stated opinions may not necessarily reflect an individual columnist’s view, but are crafted for rhetorical exercise.

Should corporations be able to donate unlimited funds to political campaigns?

To see Austin Davis’ response to this question, click here.

America: Sponsored by McDonald’s

By Michael Dorrill

When I turned 18 years old, I was most excited about getting to vote. I’d always been politically inclined, and finally making my voice heard was a much-anticipated prospect. I’ve gone to the ballot box a few times since then, and recently I filled out my absentee ballot for the 2012 election. Our right to vote is one of our most valuable rights, and it must be protected.

One of the biggest threats to that democratic integrity comes from the influence of money in politics. In 2004, lobbyist Jack Abramoff was convicted of conspiracy to bribe public officials and served 43 months in jail. He paid off a number of White House officials and Congressmen, including the House Majority Leader at the time, Tom DeLay. When our representatives are taking money from corporate sources, how can we trust them to keep their constituents’ interests at heart?

DeLay was sentenced to three years in prison and is currently free on bail awaiting appeal, but money in politics is still a problem. After the 2010 Citizen’s United Supreme Court ruling, groups known as Super Political Action Committees (PAC) were formed.

As long as they don’t coordinate with candidates, Super PACs can take unlimited donations and spend unlimited amounts of money on political advertisements. Even worse are 501(c)(4) organizations, which don’t have to disclose their donor’s identities. The Supreme Court has said time and time again that spending money on political advertisements is political speech and protected under the first amendment. But that does not mean that some people’s speech should be louder than others.

To explain, I donated to a political campaign. I gave the candidate of my choice $20. But a millionaire could give $20 million dollars to a Super PAC, and the stream of political advertisements flooding the airwaves suddenly drowns my voice out.

Before you dismiss my hypothetical as unrealistic, realize that it actually happened. Sheldon Adelson, a resort tycoon, gave $20 million dollars to the former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich Super PAC “Winning Our Future” and gave another $10 million to Governor Mitt Romney’s Super PAC “Restore Our Future” after Romney won the Republican nomination. Our government is supposed to derive power and make policy from the consent and will of its population as a whole, not whoever has the biggest checkbook!

Political donations are political speech. It’s protected by the first amendment, and the Supreme Court backed it up long before Citizens United. If we start to keep people from advocating for the candidate of their choice, we’re doing it wrong. But do giant corporations and Super PACs really have the same free speech rights that individuals do? I say no.

Sorry Mr. Romney, but corporations are not people, my friend. They are made up of individual people, and if they all wanted to individually donate to a campaign, they have that right.

Chik-fil-A doesn’t have the right to vote, and its money should not be given to groups that will spend it on any kind of political speech. Chik-fil-A Chairman and CEO Truett Cathy, not a company, can hand out his money and have his interests protected by a congressman.

When speech brings about a clear and present danger to society, the Supreme Court has ruled that it can be restricted. As long as corporations are allowed to make unlimited donations toward political speech, there is a clear and present danger to the integrity of our democracy.  Because speech is free, not sold to the highest bidder.

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