US Politics and Corporate Speech: A Two-Edged Sword

Richard Sylla Headshot

By Richard Sylla

By Richard Sylla

In its 2010 Citizens United decision, the Supreme Court gave corporations relatively unlimited free-speech rights to spend corporate funds for political causes and candidates. A part of the majority’s reasoning was that if corporate media entities — for example, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Fox News and CNN — have undeniable First Amendment rights to endorse causes and candidates, why should non-media corporate entities be denied the same rights?

In essence, the court based its decision on reasoning that corporations are associations of individuals and so ought to have the same free-speech rights as individuals, that spending money on politics is a form of free speech and that corporate political spending was not and would not be seen as corrupt.

Regardless of one’s opinion of the court’s decision, it is worth pointing out that having a right does not mean one has to exercise it. American citizens have a right to keep and bear arms, but many of them don’t. They have a right to vote, but many don’t.

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Richard Sylla is a Professor Emeritus of Economics and the former Henry Kaufman Professor of the History of Financial Institutions and Markets at New York University Stern School of Business.