Published DateTo the editor,
Barbara McElroy's letter of April 3rd claims that the U. S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United resulted in "corporate interests taking precedence over the interests of the public" and not only "threatens both public health and our democracy", but "is the biggest threat yet to the well being of our citizens". She spends much of her time bashing corporations for promoting the sale and use of "unsafe and often dangerous products", which she claims is directly related to the decision which allows corporations to unduly influence politicians.
Citizens United is a decision based upon the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. It confirms a precedent of 35 years ago that the inherent worth of speech to inform the public does not depend on the identity of the speaker, whether corporation, union, association or individual. Under Citizens United, unions have the same First Amendment rights to fund their political speech as do corporations and individuals. Does Ms. McElroy object to unions using their member dues to lobby politicians and influence legislation, or is her disdain limited to corporations because she does not like the content of their political speech? The foundation of the First Amendment is that it protects and promotes the free exchange of ideas regardless of source and however personally disagreeable one may find the content of the speech.
Ms. McElroy claims that health and safety standards such as asbestos and lead paint bans, vehicle safety standards, tobacco warning labels along with food and pharmaceutical safety "would not have occurred in the presence of" Citizens United. Really! What then is the role of the Food and Drug Administration, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency? These federal agencies and others issue regulations concerning health and safety of the public, and I fail to see how the decision in Citizens United prevents or hinders their respective authority. It should be noted that not all forms of commercial speech have full First Amendment protection. The ability of corporations to use commercial speech or advertising has traditionally been regulated by government for truth and accuracy. This is one of main responsibilities of The Federal Trade Commission.
Ms. McElroy's promotion of a Constitutional Amendment to re-establish the ability of government to regulate campaign spending is misguided. She should use her First Amendment rights to individually or collectively advocate her position on public issues rather than seek to diminish another's Constitutional right of free speech. As Voltaire is quoted as saying: "I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it".
Richard R. Gerken