Dr. Bronner’s Embraces Citizens United

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It’s refreshing to see a counterculture icon on like Dr. Bronner’s use its corporate treasury funds to advocate for the victory/defeat of a specific ballot initiative:

While many organics companies have contributed to Washington’s 522 campaign, none has gone to the mat like Dr. Bronner’s, which prominently displays a Yes on 522 ad on its soap labels. “Taking sides on a political campaign like that is totally unprecedented in the world of product labeling,” Robert Parker, the president of Label King, the printer of the Dr. Bronner’s labels, tells me as we float among the breakers during a company “board meeting”—an early morning surf at Carlsbad’s Terramar Beach with Bronner and a handful of his employees and friends.

This kind of activism might have been impossible just a few short years ago were in not for the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. That ruling established that people, when acting together as owners of unions and corporations, do not lose their First amendment rights when they choose to use those entities to advocate in the world of electoral politics.

Here’s a short video on the subject (produced long before the decision was rendered):

Kentucky Attorney General Backs Away from First Amendment Suit

Related to an earlier post about columnist John Rosemond, Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway today released the following:

Here’s the text:

Attorney General Jack Conway today clarified some misinformation that has been reported recently by some media outlets and in some editorials regarding the John Rosemond case.

“Mr. Rosemond, a nationally syndicated advice columnist, was sent a cease and desist letter by the Kentucky Board of Psychology. I did not write that letter, I did not authorize that letter and the letter was not sent on behalf of the Office of the Attorney General,” General Conway said.

In Kentucky, state boards and agencies may hire attorneys from the Office of the Attorney General to serve on an hourly basis as board or agency attorneys. In this capacity, as counsel to the board, an attorney from the Office of the Attorney General sent this letter. The attorney sent the letter at the direction of the board and sent the letter as the board’s attorney. The action had nothing to do with the Office of the Attorney General.

The attorney inadvertently printed the letter on Office of the Attorney General letterhead. This is not proper procedure, and all attorneys in the Office of the Attorney General have been reminded that if they are doing business of (sic) behalf of a board, they should use the letterhead of that board.

Interesting. The question now is this: How often has this kind of threat been used where an individual believes he’s actually being threatened by the top law enforcement officer in the commonwealth? Do other states engage in this kind of “delegation” of law enforcement authority?

Interesting also that this is in no way an apology for the actions of an attorney in an office under his direction.

John Yarmuth Is Wrong about The First Amendment

My former hometown NPR affiliate, WKMS in Murray, Kentucky aired my radio commentary yesterday. Here’s the text:

Congressman John Yarmuth believes that Citizens United was a bad Supreme Court decision. The two year old free speech ruling found that people don’t have to give up their right to associate freely when they want to speak freely and vice versa. And it allowed unions and corporations to facilitate political speech more easily.

Congressman Yarmuth, by way of overturning Citizens United, has written a Constitutional Amendment that, as he puts it, establishes “financial expenditures … do not qualify as protected speech under the First Amendment.” He further argues that the financial expenditures don’t even have to clearly express support or opposition for a candidate. That speech would no longer be protected by the Constitution.

To me, this seems odd. I used to work for John Yarmuth on occasion, writing articles in his former newspaper, LEO, about public policy and other matters. The reason Yarmuth’s claim seems odd is that his newspaper regularly endorsed candidates for political office and regularly published stories expressing support or skepticism toward political actors. I wonder if Yarmuth believes that his Constitutional amendment would hamper newspapers that endorse candidates as LEO did and still does.

Most newspapers are owned by corporations and it would be foolish to argue that a newspaper endorsement is not both a corporate expenditure and an “in kind” contribution, both of which are targeted by Yarmuth’s amendment. After all, it costs money to print a newspaper and newspaper endorsements are often extremely valuable to politicians during a campaign.

Now I expect that John Yarmuth doesn’t mean to single out newspapers or other media outlets for direct government regulation of political speech and he may respond that the government would use discretion and restraint when choosing which media outlets receive this higher level of scrutiny.

The problem, of course, is that Congress has already tried to regulate political speech in very scary ways. And they’ve done it by precisely claiming that spending money to advance an idea … isn’t really speech.

In 2010, the Supreme Court decided a case where advertisements for a political documentary were banned by the Federal Election Commission. And the Commission banned the film from being shown on Pay-per-View for weeks prior to elections. During the oral argument, justices asked the government’s lawyer if he thought the Federal Election Commission could even ban the sale of books, or publications for your kindle, that contained so-called “express political advocacy.” The government’s lawyer effectively said yes, we can.

That case was Citizens United. And the high court rightly threw out that kind of dangerous government censorship of political speech.

So a few questions should be put to Congressman Yarmuth: Do you really believe under your proposal that newspapers like LEO wouldn’t be subject to direct government regulation of their content? Is government censorship really the answer here?