Fair Elections

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

In the wake of the Supreme Court's decision to remove limits on campaign spending, Congress will consider "Fair Election" legislation. Harry Kamen, former chairman and CEO of Metlife, speaks about a letter (PDF of the letter) to Congress signed by multiple CEOs asking for the legislation’s passing, and Arn Pearson, Vice President for programs at Common Cause, looks at the legislation’s details.

Then, Lawrence Lessig, Director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics and the author of Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy (Penguin Press, 2008), examines the potentially devastating relationship of money and politics.


Harry Kamen, Lawrence Lessig and Arn Pearson

Comments [56]

gary from queens

And the majority didn't say that corporations have the same rights as people. I said that for-profit organizations have the same rights to political speech as non-profit organizations.

Stop the demagoguery. Get some counterpoint on the shows!

Feb. 04 2010 02:07 PM
gary from queens

Kamen repeated the same lie as the president and congress on foreign corporations:

The Court held that 2 U.S.C. Section 441a, which prohibits all corporate political spending, is unconstitutional. Foreign nationals, specifically defined to include foreign corporations, are prohibiting from making "a contribution or donation of money or ather thing of value, or to make an express or implied promise to make a contribution or donation, in connection with a Federal, State or local election" under 2 U.S.C. Section 441e, which was not at issue in the case. Foreign corporations are also prohibited, under 2 U.S.C. 441e, from making any contribution or donation to any committee of any political party, and they prohibited from making any "expenditure, independent expenditure, or disbursement for an electioneering communication."

Feb. 04 2010 02:03 PM

I was emailed the following I guess becuase I was born in South Africa:
"LAGOS, Nigeria - Soccer referees in Nigeria can take bribes from clubs but should not allow them to influence their decisions on the field,a football official said"

Hopefully our congressmen are as principiled!

Feb. 02 2010 12:57 PM
ellen from ny

I understand Europe finances elections publically. Is it possible to hear on your show someone who can explain how they do it? Let's hear concrete examples of other ways of electing people with more democracy, and less influence from concentrated wealth that removes power from individualvoters. This issue isn't given enough airing on our media. We need contrasting examples to better understand our own

Feb. 02 2010 12:32 PM
ellen from ny

I think some of the posters here have better ideas than Lessig! So read some of them on air, to counter that bizarre Robert, as he hasn't been countered properly yet.

Istead of generalities about domocracy, I want more concrete examples of how corporate power will influence elections even further than now.

Would you consider devoting part of your show tomorrow to reading some of these posts here and then get some good callers who actually deserve the air time?

Feb. 02 2010 12:26 PM
ellen from ny

Brian, why did you let that bully blowhard, robert, go on and on and take over the discussion with no interruption? I rarely heard any of your callers or even guests have so much time? His idea of corporations being made up of individuals so the court's ruling is ok, is bizarre. That those on the other side are just anti business is nutty.

You gave this irrational raver quite a platform. But also how inadequate was the other caller's rejoinder, that corporations don't give blood. And laurence lessig's answers were also not strong or convincing enough. His last 30 seconds were nothing. Brian, do you agree with Robert deep down?

The ruling is a multiplier of power to those concentrations of wealth and power who already have too much for a modern democracy. It matters because our elections already depend on private wealth, so the magification of the influence of wealth takes away power individual voters. It's like an ant standing next to a tidal wave.

Feb. 02 2010 12:23 PM
tom from nyc

a problem with corp's speech is it multiplies the speech of controllers of companies spending. so the controllers get their own personal speech and the corp's too w/ the added weight $ that goes w/ that.

it is not the case that shareholders generally tell corps what to do or control how they work.

perhaps, if corps continue to be "persons", the corps should have to get 100% shareholder approval to spend $ on speech.

Feb. 02 2010 12:06 PM
Nancy from Manhattan

Corporations are made up of individuals (obviously), but the SOLE goal of the corporation is to make money, without regard to the noxious consequences that may result (i.e., exploitation of workers and nations).

Saying what's good for business is good for the U.S., NOT TRUE.

Corporations go into 3d world countries and exploit their natural resources (maybe oil), make a mess in that 3d world country (because the corporations' only aim is to make money, not to worry about the consequences), then the U.S. military has to go in to clean up the mess (funded by the tax payers). Bad news.

Feb. 02 2010 11:58 AM
Henry from Katonah

It isn't large public companies campaign spending that bothers me, it's "corporate" enties like Citizens United, Swift Boat Veterans or Move On. As a coprorate librarian, I can tell you, most corporations do not have to reveal who they are or who is funding them.

Feb. 02 2010 11:51 AM
Moshe Feder from Flushing, NY

Once again I waited on hold and didn't get on air, making me 3-for-3 lately in that regard. I thought Joel from Westchester was going to make my point for me, but unfortunately he just used it rhetorically rather than substantively.

Briefly, the recent unfortunate Supreme Court decision is premised on two key ideas, that the right to spend money on a campaign is equivalent to the free speech guaranteed by the constitution and that corporations, having been defined by law as equivalent to persons, are entitled to the same free speech rights as people.

Since we can't change the first element without amending the constitution, we should change the second by modifying the legal definition of a corporation. That's something Congress could do today if it chose, and it would cancel the effect of People United in a stroke.

In the present setup, corporations are privileged above humans, and that's just wrong. Is the next logical step allowing them to be elected and hold office? Does that make any more sense than putting them in jail or drafting them into the army? With this decision the interpretation of corporate law has clearly passed the bounds of common sense.

If Congress refuses to act, then let's stake SCOTUS as their word and nominate IBM for governor of New York and ask the President to appoint the ACLU as Attorney General.

Feb. 02 2010 11:50 AM
Elizabeth Lynch, from New York, NY

Citizens United does open the US election process to foreign money and in some cases, the influence of foreign governments. The majority opinion's expansion of the definition of "corporations" and the elevation of corporations as equal citizens to human beings, allows for foreign influence. Most foreign corporations have US subsidiaries - corporations incorporated in a state in the U.S. and can act through these subsidiaries to influence campaigns. But what is even more worrisome is that some foreign corporations, like many Chinese ones, are owned by the government. For more info, check out my HuffPo article on the issue -

Feb. 02 2010 11:43 AM
Andrea from NY, NY

A caller is touting how corporations are made up of people and represents the people, but those people get their vote and their say and can put their contribution dollars where they choose. The caller is saying that a corporation does give blood because the corporation brings the red cross into their offices and asks the workers to donate blood, but it is still the blood of the individuals, not the blood of the corporation. Corporations do not get a vote and should not be treated as a separate entity for campaign contributions.

Feb. 02 2010 11:42 AM
Kitchen Philosopher from Central New Jersey

Flesh and blood people first, please. They not only give blood and organs, but even the best and the worst of them eventually die. Corporations are multi-national, which means that giving them free speech COUPLED with big bunches of money gives people who are NOT constituents MORE speech than the actual living and breathing citizens, whose real lives are affected by the demands and wishes of private interests.

Feb. 02 2010 11:41 AM
art525 from park slope

This caller who claims that corporations are the same as individuals because they are made up of individuals is completely off base. I thought I remembered from my high school social studies classes that the concept of the corporation was created to deflect personal legal responsibility. I just looked it up on Google and here's what they say-"A corporation is an institution that is granted a charter recognizing it as a separate legal entity having its own rights, privileges, and liabilities distinct from those of its members".

Feb. 02 2010 11:41 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Yes, corporations are made up of people--as the current caller (Robert) said, from the CEO to the administrative assts. But the admin. assts. don't have any voice in deciding where the corp. makes its political contributions, the CEO (or the board) does. So the people who are able to give the most money as individuals are the ones who are able to give the most through the corp's. they head--& since they can give as indiv's., why should they be able to give twice?

Feb. 02 2010 11:41 AM
Superf88 from

are corporate donations tax deductible

(as are corporate legal fees, marketing, and r and d?)

up to what amount?

if so, can individuals also claim these tax deductions, based on the recent court decision? these deductions for corporations OFTEN mean the difference between red and black for that period.

Feb. 02 2010 11:40 AM
Anon from Staten Island

Many seem to miss the big point: Corporations now have a double voice, and do NOT have to be US citizens to speak in our elections. Example: Rupert Murdoch can make individual contributions within the limits to the candidates of his choice, and NewsCorp can run billion dollar attack ads that are not factually correct. Is he a citizen? Why should he have 2 voices to my one?

Feb. 02 2010 11:40 AM
Gene from Long Island

Foreign money has has long been viewed as corruption. In 1620, an English broadside Vox Populii satirically charged the Spanish ambassador was bribing English officials. The author didn't know the truth--the English ambassador to Madrid in 1613 discovered King James I was receiving a Spanish pension! The Constitution was written recognizing this. It prohibits "persons holding ... any office of profit or trust" from "accept[ing] ... any present ... from any ... foreign states. Article 1 Section 9. Citizens United does not deal with this issue, although Stevens raises it in his dissent

Feb. 02 2010 11:40 AM
harvey mandlin from uws

The record is filled with corporations serving, not the interest of their shareholder/owners but of management, typically unfettered by compliant boards. Why should we expect the "people" (e.g. management) of corporations will act in the nations and public's behalf.

Feb. 02 2010 11:40 AM
Teufelchen from Park Slope

Remember how W used to hem and haw about 'activist judges'? Seems like he was right although he directed that claim against liberals. Alito, Roberts, and Thomas are the judicial 'Axis of Evil'....and corporations don't have a vote, individuals do.

Feb. 02 2010 11:40 AM
Voter from Brooklyn

What Robert fails to recognize—along with everyone else that is pro corporate donations—is that it means those people he is talking about gets two bites at the apple. The corporation votes TWICE. The CEO, COO, CFO, et al get to donate as an individual and as a corporation. If the individuals in the corporations want to influence elections, let them, but don’t let them double dip. Why hasn’t anyone pointed out this obvious fact.
In addition, what is good for the living citizens of America isn’t necessarily what’s good for a corporation. Look at natural resources, air and water quality, child labor, the 40 hour week, overtime, etc. All decision that are good for breathing bodies but bad for corporate America.

Feb. 02 2010 11:39 AM
Robert from NYC

This guy just self-identifies as the corporation. He's nothing but a follower of the corporation. He doesn't speak for the corporation, the corporation speaks for him and he lets it. When he gives his blood at the office HE's giving blood not the corporation. He can't seem to identify himself from his boss.

Feb. 02 2010 11:39 AM
dan from chelsea, ny

corporations have a bottom line. to meet that line they will/have pollute, corrupt, use slave and child labor, find tax loopholes, coercive business practices, etc. ect... do we want to give more power to them than someone who chooses not to be part of a corporation? that would give an individual who is part of a corporation 2 votes over those who are not part of one.

Feb. 02 2010 11:39 AM
Hugh Sansom from Brooklyn NY

The claim that a corporation is a person is simply false.

Whether corporations have a right to speak is a separate question.

The question is what, if any, rights we have long accorded to individual persons will also be accorded to assemblies of people.

Mr. Lehrer is absolutely right. IF corporations have the same rights as individuals, then they should be able to vote, they should be able to run for office.

In that case, ANY assembly of people should be able to do likewise.

Feb. 02 2010 11:39 AM
Duane from Toronto

It's tiresome that people keep suggesting that corporations can now bankroll campaigns and that the Supreme Court overturned 100 years of law.

Please get the facts before you debate. The ruling overturns a provision that was enacted 7 years ago with the McCain Feingold Act. The rest of the law stayed firm.

Corporations are STILL prohibited from contributing directly from campaigns. The ruling only allows them to spend unlimited money on their own political advertising if they choose.

Feb. 02 2010 11:39 AM
laura humphrey from brooklyn

The primary difference between corporations and individuals is that they are not punished for illegal activity in the same way. Corporations hardly get punished for illegal activity as it is, which makes it frightening that they are now given the reigns to influence law making to such a high degree.

Feb. 02 2010 11:39 AM
Lazarus Chambers from NYC

The issue for the corporations is, when they make a decision does it represent the entire employee base or is it just the group think of the CEO and other upper executives. What if the direction and support for a specific politician is contrary to what the employees of a corporation wants.

Feb. 02 2010 11:39 AM
Julia from Skillman, NJ

We are supposed to be a government for the people, by the people -- not the corporations. That would give certain other people (within those corporations) more than their one say.

Feb. 02 2010 11:38 AM
chris from brooklyn

Doesn't the French word for corporation translate roughly into "society of the anonymous?"

Feb. 02 2010 11:38 AM
bob from huntington

does the corporation take a vote of all its employees, stockholders, etc. before making a political endorsement?

i don't think so.

Feb. 02 2010 11:37 AM
M from NY

what of Apple's Hate on 8 advert?

Feb. 02 2010 11:37 AM
Mk from Manhattan

If the statute remains, corporations should be forced to identify themselves in all advertising and political donations. The public can then decide if they want to support that corporation or not. We have the power to boycott their products and services and sell their stock. I think that is the message Mr. Kamen was giving when he said they served their customers.

Feb. 02 2010 11:37 AM
Jay from Norwalk, CT

Corporations are not people. People are controlled by a conscience, corporations by their stockholders. There is a big difference.

Feb. 02 2010 11:37 AM
Peter from Central New Jersey

Can a corporation vote? No? NOt a person.

Feb. 02 2010 11:35 AM
Rick from Connecticut

This is not free speech, it is paid speech by those who have the money. This decision now brings us back to the Gilded age, pardon me as I reset my computer date to Feb 2, 1875

Feb. 02 2010 11:34 AM
Unemployed from Inwood

If corporations are "people" in the eyes of this supreme court, can the corporation itself be tried for murder or at least negligent homicide--to use the most extreme example? If found guilty, then the corporation should be executed, i.e. broken up and the assets sold at public auction with the proceeds, less any fines and legally ordered retribution, be returned to the share holders.

Feb. 02 2010 11:33 AM
J from NJ

Isn’t a corporation supporting a particular issue potentially infringing on an employee of that corporation’s free speech if that employee disagrees with the corporate point of view?

Feb. 02 2010 11:31 AM
Brendan from East Village

An idea based on Common Cause's efforts.

Yes, we can let corporations invest money.

But new campaign finance laws could put all that corporate money into one large fund -- to pay for commercials, expenses, etc -- but it would be distributed to ALL candidates equality.

Feb. 02 2010 11:31 AM
Hugh Sansom from Brooklyn NY

Three questions for Lawrence Lessig:

1. It's not _obvious_ that spending money is speech. (Most people clearly think it is not.)

2. So what's the rationale behind asserting that spending money is a speech act?

3. What other rights would Roberts, Kennedy et al think corporations have?

Feb. 02 2010 11:29 AM

I still don't full understand how money is construed as speech, the explanations I've come across sound like it was arrived at through a series of dependencies.

Feb. 02 2010 11:29 AM
hjs from 11211

while i'm sure that would make the GOP very happy i won't vote that way. i like my representative

Feb. 02 2010 11:28 AM
Laurie Laurie Spiegel

Corporations are not allowed to vote. That is constitutional doctrine showing they should have restricted political speech compared to human beings.

Feb. 02 2010 11:27 AM
Hugh Sansom from Brooklyn NY

Are American corporations more patriotic, inherently?

Good question. The answer is a resounding NO!

Look at all the firms dumping American workers to make more money for executives. Look at the statements by people like Angela Braly at WellPoint who EXPRESSLY endorsed making money before providing care.

Feb. 02 2010 11:23 AM
Superf88 from

Ask Kamen if the moral qualities in NY-based CEOs have changed at all since his early days, and please give a few examples...

I suspect this old dog must read today's papers and HOWL...

Feb. 02 2010 11:21 AM

Off topic - What does Mr. Kamen think about his former company's role in selling out the Stuyvesant Town tenants to the Tishman-Speyer gang?

(Background: My parents were original tenants, moved in when my father returned from WWII and my mom was still working for Met Life on 23rd Street. When Mon died my sister (who lives with her for over 4 years) got a letter stating "Condolences on your loss. When are you moving out?", followed promptly by eviction proceedings.)

Feb. 02 2010 11:20 AM
Derek from 42nd St.

Vote out all 435 House members in Congress.

I am starting my own corporation to raise money to fund my Congressional Campaign.

Screw the FEC I'm not going to raise money through my campaign, due to limits on personal donations but through my non-profit corporation.

This is a possible windfall for 3rd parties and independents. The $2,000 limit on donations impedes non-incumbents for raise large amounts of money.

Feb. 02 2010 11:20 AM

I am sorry,

I don't believe that Corporations care about the public interest. Corporations act in the public interest when they are forced to. And, in the age of globalization does not make Corporations as loyal to the USA as they may have been years ago.

Feb. 02 2010 11:19 AM
charlie kruger from harrington park nj

It seems to me we could fix this with the tax code. If we were to make any executive compensation over, say, two million dollars not deductible, even Metlife would have trouble coming up with much in political payments. Two birds, one stone.

Feb. 02 2010 11:17 AM
Tony from Santa Clara, CA

I keep maintaining that it is against the 24th amendment; it acts as a poll tax.

Feb. 02 2010 11:17 AM
Bo from Granville, NY

Congress needs to declare that corporations are not "people" and that only humans are people and based on that, only humans have "rights."

Feb. 02 2010 11:16 AM

How do the guests feel about public financing of elections and access to free media time to candidates. And, how would you be able to accommodate third, fourth and fifth parties under this system?

Feb. 02 2010 11:13 AM
charles harris from island heights nj

if a corporation supports a candidate do they first poll their shareholder co-owners of the company?

Feb. 02 2010 11:10 AM
Omer from NJ

Look at the signatures on the letter. There is no CEO from companies that does business with government or receive subsidies, special leases, etc.

You want see big boxes. They will loose a lot from local government incentive. No real estate tax, hold backs from sales taxes, etc.
You want see any defense people.
you want see any banks, medical, etc. Under the current political climate, they have a lot to loose.

Feb. 02 2010 11:09 AM
Jon from NYC

janine from brooklyn [1] touches on something that I've been wondering for the last wek or so: what's to prevent foreign multinationals (oxymoron?) from spending millions on influence -- excuse me: "political free speech"?

Between the resources of Saudi Aramco, Petrobras, BP, and Royal Dutch Shell, any "green" candidate can be outspent out of a political race by 100-to-1. That's a little alarming to me.

Feb. 02 2010 10:12 AM
hjs from 11211

can't the public airwaves be used for 2 months for fair elections (free ads and balanced views) instead of corporation propaganda??

don't laugh that wasn't a joke. anyway if democracy dies after this it's not because of a pro big business GOP supreme court or foreign shareholders, it will be because of the quality of voters we have in this country. 30 years of reaganism sure has had it's effect on education. can they still read at least?

Feb. 02 2010 09:46 AM
janine from brooklyn

how would the legitimacy of overseas monies be accounted for? in a recent hedge fund arrest, some of the money had been funneled to groups running up against the Patriot Act; with all of the deregulation, how is this all to be sorted out given that different countries have different standards of accountability?

Feb. 02 2010 04:10 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.