response to the Supreme Court's recent decision on corporate speech. The court struck down parts of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that prohibited corporations from airing political ads shortly before elections. The majority ruled that corporate speech is protected by the first amendment. In response, many progressives are insisting that only individuals should have a right to free speech. (See here for example.)
There are lots of good reasons to worry about corporations wielding too much influence, but how can anybody really want to see free speech rights restricted to individuals? Surely a city shouldn't be able to take down billboards put up by advocacy groups like the Sierra Club or Peta, or even the NRA--just on the basis of their content. Right? We wouldn't want free speech rights not to extend to groups.
I don't even find it obvious that a for-profit corporation should be silenceable. Say that Coca Cola wants to put an ad on TV supporting gay marriage in Georgia--whether for ideological reasons or to sell products or to attract good staff to their headquarters in Atlanta. Or maybe they want to object to gay marriage. Should it be possible for some government entity to prohibit the ads?
The critical question is whether the usual free speech rights of corporations (surely they have some) should be curtailed when it comes to elections. Is it so harmful to our democracy for corporations to run political ads right before an election that their normal free speech rights should be overridden--much like we don't let people yell "fire!" in a movie theater?
Maybe, but there's a right there to be curtailed. It doesn't seem wise to completely deny the right--if we want to live in a free and open democracy.
There's a further reason to be wary of restricting rights to individuals. That's bound to be interpreted as meaning "human individuals." The fact that corporations are legal entities in this country, with rights and liabilities, opens the door to other expansions. This point is made in Cass Sunstein's very interesting article "Can Animals Sue?"
All around, it doesn't seem wise to insist that rights are for you and me only--that would have ramifications that are bad all around, bad for progressives, and especially bad for pro-animal progressives.