Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Photo of Bill Moyers Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Watch & Listen The Blog Archive Transcripts Buy DVDs

Main

January 29, 2010

Corporations, Political Spending, & the Supreme Court

(Photos by Robin Holland)

This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with legal experts Zephyr Teachout and Monica Youn about the Supreme Court's controversial ruling last week on the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

In a 5-4 decision, the Court cited the First Amendment to strike down laws that restricted corporations and unions from spending funds from their general treasuries on political communications in periods shortly before elections and primaries. The decision has aroused passionate reactions from observers across the political spectrum about corporate influence on elections and whether money spent on political advertising should qualify as free speech protected under the First Amendment.

Zephyr Teachout, who teaches law and politics at Fordham University's School of Law, said:

"This is not just a First Amendment question. This is a question of what kind of society do we want to live in... Imagine a Senate race in a few years [if] efforts to break up the banks got into a high pitch, and a candidate recognizes that people in her state are very supportive of this effort to break up the banks, but the polls are close. So, she comes out with a strong statement saying 'I want a cap on how big a bank can be, in the billions.' That night, there can be ad hominem attacks funded by Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley on her, directly paid, that cover the airways. Not only can that happen, but she knows that can happen. How likely is she to take on one of the most important economic questions that we have right now, how to structure our financial industry, when she knows the financial industry is already spending $400 million a year on lobbying?"

Monica Youn, who directs the campaign finance reform/money in politics project at New York University's Brennan Center for Law and Justice, said:

"The marketplace of ideas doesn't give anyone, any corporation or any individual, the right to buy an election. The First Amendment is an important part of our Constitution, but so is the idea that this is a democracy. This is a society based on the idea of one person - one vote, and our elections should not be marketplaces. They should be about voters. They should be about helping the electorate make an informed decision, and the electorate is not going to be able to make an informed decision if all they can see on the air, hear on the radio, are attacks ads funded by hidden corporate agendas... There's a reason our Constitution was set up the way it was, and there's a reason you can't buy an election, because we didn't intend for those who have the most money just to be able to get everything in the system the way they want it every time."

Progressive author (and former lawyer) Glenn Greenwald, who has appeared on the JOURNAL several times, has expressed qualified support for the Supreme Court's decision. On his blog, he wrote:

"I'm deeply ambivalent about the court's ruling... Even on a utilitarian level, the long-term dangers of allowing the Government to restrict political speech invariably outweigh whatever benefits accrue from such restrictions... The speech restrictions struck down by Citizens United do not only apply to Exxon and Halliburton; they also apply to non-profit advocacy corporations, such as, say, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, as well as labor unions, which are genuinely burdened in their ability to express their views by these laws... Laws which prohibit organized groups of people - which is what corporations are - from expressing political views goes right to the heart of free speech guarantees no matter how the First Amendment is understood... The invalidated statute at issue here exempted media corporations - such as Fox and MSNBC - from these restrictions, since the government obviously can't ban media figures from going on television and opining about elections (the way they do all other corporations)... It allowed the views of News Corp., GE, and Viacom to flourish (through their ownership of media outlets) while preventing the ACLU and Planned Parenthood from speaking out."

What do you think?

  • If you were a Justice on the Supreme Court, how would you have voted in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission? Explain.

  • Should Congress move to pass new laws regulating political spending from corporations and unions? If so, what would you suggest?

  • How are you and your community working to win political power for the people over deep-pocketed special interests?


  • June 9, 2008

    Rick Karr on Internet Surveillance

    Congress is still deadlocked over the Bush Administration's efforts to listen in to phone calls and read emails without search warrants. The sticking point is whether or not to allow private citizens to sue telecom conglomerates, the huge firms that provide most of us with phone and internet service - and helped the Administration spy on us. Now, the Administration wants to try to spy on Americans in another way. My colleague Rick Karr has this to bring you up to speed.
    -Bill Moyers
    Update Required

    Sorry in order to watch this video clip you need the latest version of the free flash plug in. CLICK HERE to download it and then refresh this page.

    We invite you to respond in the space below.

    February 15, 2008

    Power Reading: A Final Note

    Watch Video

    We invite you to respond by commenting below.


    January 11, 2008

    Grievance, Black Politics, and Black Identity

    In his conversation with Bill Moyers on this week’s JOURNAL, scholar Shelby Steele said the following:

    I am black and happy to be so, but my identity is not my master. I’m my master. And I resent this civil rights leadership telling me what I should think and what issues I should support this way or that way. And that’s where, in black America, identity has become almost totalitarian... You [must] subscribe to the idea that the essence of blackness is grounded in grievance, and if you vary from that you are letting whites off the hook. And we’re gonna call you a sell out. We’re gonna call you an ‘Uncle Tom’... I was gonna have a life or I was just going to be a kind of surrogate for blackness... but you enter an exile where the group identifies you as someone who is a threat, and part of being black is despising or having contempt for people like me.

    What do you think?

  • Do you agree with Steele's contention that today’s black identity is “grounded in grievance?”
  • Is ideological diversity within the black community limited by an imperative to not "let whites off the hook?"
  • To what extent are racial divisions and classifications reinforced by minority group identity?


  • December 14, 2007

    Can Only "Screechers" Compete In Today's Political Discourse?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    In his conversation with Bill Moyers on this week’s JOURNAL, MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann addressed critics who liken his brand of editorializing to that of the conservative commentators he decries:

    "It's the most vulnerable point because it bothers me, too. The one criticism that I think is absolutely fair [is that] we're doing the same thing. It becomes a nation of screechers. It's never a good thing. But emergency rules do apply... I think the stuff that I'm talking about is so obvious and will be viewed in such terms of certainty by history... I think only under these circumstances would I go this far out on a limb and be this vociferous about it."

    What do you think?

  • Do you agree with those who describe Olbermann as a "Limbaugh for Lefties?" Can "vociferous" remarks --- either from Olbermann or conservative commentators --- contribute constructively to the national discourse?

  • Is it possible for reasoned, even-handed journalism to compete in today's marketplace of ideas?

  • Does the political polarization of news outlets as seen in cable news, blogs, talk radio, etc. undermine the potential for Americans of differing views to find common ground?


  • Media Consolidation: What happens after the FCC vote?

    By Rick KarrRick Karr by Robin Holland

    (photo by Robin Holland)

    Next Tuesday (December 18), the five members of the Federal Communications Commission will decide whether or not the U.S. will go through another frenzy of media consolidation: They'll vote on Republican FCC Chairman Kevin Martin's proposal to let newspapers buy radio and TV stations. Martin's plan is opposed by minority groups, a majority (pdf) of the public, and, as we report on this week's edition of THE JOURNAL, Capitol Hill lawmakers from both parties.

    I tell my students at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism that reporters shouldn't make predictions because if they turn out to be wrong, the reporter loses credibility. But I'm throwing caution to the wind to make some predictions about Tuesday's FCC vote, anyway:

    Continue reading "Media Consolidation: What happens after the FCC vote?" »


    December 7, 2007

    Religion In Politics

    In this week’s edition of the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers asked Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Melissa Rogers about Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s high-profile speech regarding his Mormonism, highlighting the following quote:

    "Given our grand tradition of religious tolerance and liberty, some wonder whether there are any questions regarding an aspiring candidate’s religion that are appropriate. I believe there are."

    This is a debate with deep historical roots that has long defied easy categorization into "left" vs. "right" terms. While some liberal figures - like Jimmy Carter - have embraced linking religious principles to their political values, a number of conservative statesmen have taken stands arguing for the stringent separation of church and state. In 1981, Republican U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater said:

    "On religious issues there can be little or no compromise. There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God's name on one's behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both.

    I'm frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in 'A,' 'B,' 'C' and 'D.' Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of 'conservatism.'"

    (For more on Barry Goldwater and Bill Moyers' interview with Goldwater staffer Victor Gold, click here)

    What do you think?

  • Is it acceptable to ask candidates questions about their religious faith? If so, which questions?

  • Is it appropriate for a candidate to promote, as Mike Huckabee has, their religious viewpoints as part of their appeal?

  • What is the proper relationship between candidates’ religion and their decisions when they reach office?


  • August 20, 2007

    What Adam Said to Eve

    By Bill Moyers

    Prepared remarks for the annual conference of the
    Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
    On August 9, 2007 in Washington, DC

    I wanted to come and thank you for what you do. Half a century ago my own journalism teachers – Selma Brotze in high school, Cecil Schumann and Delbert Maguire at North Texas State, and Dewitt Reddick and Paul Thompson at the University of Texas – stoked my passion for journalism, as you do for so many young people today.

    That passion bloomed early. In 1950, on my 16th birthday I went to work for the daily newspaper in the small East Texas town where I grew up – the Marshall News Messenger. It was a good place to be a cub reporter – small enough to navigate but big enough to keep me busy and learning something every day. I soon had a stroke of good luck. Shakespeare said: "Merit doth much but fortune doth more." Some of the old-timers were on vacation or out sick, and I got assigned to cover what came to be known as the “Housewives’ Rebellion." Fifteen women in my hometown decided not to pay the Social Security withholding tax for their domestic workers. They argued that Social Security was unconstitutional, that imposing it was taxation without representation, and that – here’s my favorite part - "requiring us to collect [the tax] is no different from requiring us to collect the garbage." They hired themselves a lawyer but lost the case and wound up holding their noses and paying the tax.

    I've thought over the years about those women and the impact their story had on my life and on my journalism. They were not bad people, they were regulars at church, their children were my friends, many of them were active in community affairs and their husbands were pillars of the business and professional class in town. They were respectable and upstanding citizens in all. So it took me a while to figure out what had brought on their spasm of reactionary rebellion. It came to me one day many years later. Fiercely loyal to their families, to their clubs charities and congregations - fiercely loyal in other words to their own kind - they narrowly defined democracy to include only people like themselves. The women who washed and ironed their laundry, wiped their children’s bottoms, made their husband’s beds and cooked their families’ meals, these women too would grow old and frail, sick and decrepit, lose their men and face the ravages of time alone, with nothing to show from their years of labor but the creases in their brow and the knots on their knuckles.

    Continue reading "What Adam Said to Eve" »


    THE MOYERS BLOG
    A Companion Blog to Bill Moyers Journal

    Your Comments

    Podcasts

    THE JOURNAL offers a free podcast and vodcast of all weekly episodes. (help)

    Click to subscribe in iTunes

    Subscribe with another reader

    Get the vodcast (help)

    For Educators    About the Series    Bill Moyers on PBS   

    © Public Affairs Television 2008    Privacy Policy    DVD/VHS    Terms of Use    FAQ