The fundamental premise of the Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC is that a corporation should have the same First Amendment rights to engage in political speech as any citizen, because a corporation is simply an "association of citizens" in the "corporate form." I think this is going to lead to the politicization of everyday economic life.
The Court's reasoning that corporate speech is simply the collective speech of individual citizens doesÂ ring true for certain non-profit, ideologically-oriented corporations, especially when they are membership-driven. When the NRA or the Sierra Club takes members' dues and uses that money to speak on political issues, they in a rough way are simply amplifying the voices of their members, even if an individual member disagrees with one policy or another advocated by the group. That person can always quit.
BUT I don't think that most stockholders in for-profit corporations think that those corporations represent the stockholders' political views. We expect that corporation to be an economic actor, to be interested in making money, and to be generally agnostic with regard to political matters. They are the subjects of government regulation, not the makers of government regulation. Yes, we understand that our bank probably has a lobbyist that advocates a position with regard to banking regulation, but they aren't representing us in any but the most attenuated way. I suppose there's a sense in which we expect the bank to favor regulation that allows them to make money in the long run, but that could lead them to either support or oppose any particular proposal, depending on their political ideology, and I doubt that many people choose their bank based on its political ideology and attitude towards regulation.
So we tend to think of our market decisions and our political advocacy in different ways. We buy the best or the cheapest pizza without regard to whether the founder of the company and its top executives ardently oppose abortion. Â We buy stocks of promising corporations without regard to whether its board of directors believes that global warming is a hoax.
This is of course a false barrier, and always has been. And it has already been breaking down. Recently several companies resigned from the Chamber of Commerce because of its strong political stance in opposition to legislation aimed at climate change. In the last election cycle there were websites rating companies as "blue' or "red" based on the proportion of employee contributions given to one party or the other. Readers were encouraged to support those companies that reflected the readers' political allegiances.
SO NOW the Supreme Court has exposed the connection between our political and economic commitments, and cognitive dissonance is no longer sustainable. The Court is telling us that Wal-Mart's speech is our speech when it works to oppose fair pay rules. That the Teamsters' speech is our speech when it opposes trade agreements. That Citibank speaks for us when it fights against banking regulation.
I don't see how I can now avoid making political calculations with regard to my investments and purchases. No, I won't be able to be pure in my judgments, and yes my decisions surely will be incomplete and inconsistent. Â But the Court's decision challenges those who disagree with certain aspects of free market ideology to step out of it. It tells us that our corporate associations are not only economic but political. It's on.