FrumForum’s Eli Lehrer thinks that because corporations can’t be neatly categorized as generally conservative or liberal, more corporate speech is a good thing:
“Contrary to the claims of both the Campus Left and the Pat Buchanan/Black Helicopters Right, corporations as a whole can’t fairly be called liberal or conservative. All of them, quite properly, want to make money above all else and this leads them to support candidates who will help them do that. Some of the causes most often supported by businesses big and smaller–lower taxes (that help them make more profits)–are conservative but others –more funding for public schools (that give them a more proficient workforce)–are ‘liberal.’”
He also contends that corporations tend to stay away from divisive issues and extreme groups. In general, because of this supposed ideological diversity and moderation, Lehrer seems to think that corporations would serve some kind of counterbalancing effect on political discourse, keeping the center of political gravity away from the fringe and preventing it from becoming too partisan.
This is both a good point and a terrible point. On the good side, he’s right to point out that corporations, despite their powerful ties with the Republican party, cannot be simply characterized as conservative. The views of the executives who run these businesses span the political spectrum, and their interests don’t always line up with “social conservative” preferences (for instance, while many social conservatives favor immigration restriction, many businesses might prefer a loosely policed border that allows them to take advantage of cheap labor in the form of migrant workers). Wall Street firms were huge contributors to Obama’s 2008 election campaign. Things aren’t as simple as they seem.
But ideology isn’t the only way to organize Americans; class is another very important category, and corporations (or, rather, the executives and other top employees whose voices and opinions give rise to “corporate speech”) generally do fall into a specific class category: the business class, capitalists, “the 1%,” or whatever you want to call it. On average, the members of this class in their role as the hearts and souls of corporations will be focused on one goal: maximizing profits. They have a legal obligation to their shareholders to do so. So when corporations speak about political issues, they will almost always favor positions that favor their ability to maximize profits—which, as the Occupy movement, among other things, points out, is not always the greatest thing for everyone else. And because a corporation is far more capable than most individuals of putting its money where its mouth is (so to speak), its speech ends up counting much more than the average individual’s. More corporate speech is not going to solve all our problems; instead, it’s likely to exacerbate them and only create more.
None of which is to say that corporations shouldn’t be able to make political statements. They have interests and are part of society, and they have just as much a right to do so as any other individual or organization. But as things currently stand, the weight of a corporate voice is much greater than most others, and this must change. Campaign finance reform and more progressive redistributive policies are just two ways we reduce the economic inequality and make everyone’s political voice more equal. It’s important for Americans to explore options like these and come up with others so that one of the most important goals of the Occupy movement: ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard.
By: Aaron Bekemeyer
(Photo by Steven Depolo under a Creative Commons license)