Citizens United v Federal Election Commission (2010)

Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the dissenting opinion in this case.

...The fact that corporations are different from human beings might seem to need no elaboration, except that the majority opinion almost completely elides it. Austin set forth some of the basic differences. Unlike natural persons, corporations have “limited liability” for their owners and managers, “perpetual life,” separation of ownership and control, “and favorable treatment of the accumulation and distribution of assets … that enhance their ability to attract capital and to deploy their resources in ways that maximize the return on their shareholders’ investments.” 494 U. S., at 658–659. Unlike voters in U. S. elections, corporations may be foreign controlled. Unlike other interest groups, business corporations have been “effectively delegated responsibility for ensuring society’s economic welfare”; they inescapably structure the life of every citizen. “ ‘[T]he resources in the treasury of a business corporation,’ ” furthermore, “ ‘are not an indication of popular support for the corporation’s political ideas.’ ” Id., at 659 (quoting MCFL , 479 U. S., at 258). “ ‘They reflect instead the economically motivated decisions of investors and customers. The availability of these resources may make a corporation a formidable political presence, even though the power of the corporation may be no reflection of the power of its ideas.’ ” 494 U. S., at 659 (quoting MCFL , 479 U. S., at 258).

     It might also be added that corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires. Corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their “personhood” often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of “We the People” by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.

     These basic points help explain why corporate electioneering is not only more likely to impair compelling governmental interests, but also why restrictions on that electioneering are less likely to encroach upon First Amendment freedoms. One fundamental concern of the First Amendment is to “protec[t] the individual’s interest in self-expression.” Consolidated Edison Co. of N. Y. v. Public Serv. Comm’n of N. Y. , 447 U. S. 530 , n. 2 (1980); see also Bellotti , 435 U. S., at 777, n. 12. Freedom of speech helps “make men free to develop their faculties,” Whitney v. California , 274 U. S. 357, 375 (1927) (Brandeis, J., concurring), it respects their “dignity and choice,” Cohen v. California , 403 U. S. 15, 24 (1971) , and it facilitates the value of “individual self-realization,” Redish, The Value of Free Speech, 130 U. Pa. L. Rev. 591, 594 (1982). Corporate speech, however, is derivative speech, speech by proxy. A regulation such as BCRA §203 may affect the way in which individuals disseminate certain messages through the corporate form, but it does not prevent anyone from speaking in his or her own voice. “Within the realm of [campaign spending] generally,” corporate spending is “furthest from the core of political expression.” Beaumont , 539 U. S., at 161, n. 8.

     It is an interesting question “who” is even speaking when a business corporation places an advertisement that endorses or attacks a particular candidate. Presumably it is not the customers or employees, who typically have no say in such matters. It cannot realistically be said to be the shareholders, who tend to be far removed from the day-to-day decisions of the firm and whose political preferences may be opaque to management. Perhaps the officers or directors of the corporation have the best claim to be the ones speaking, except their fiduciary duties generally prohibit them from using corporate funds for personal ends. Some individuals associated with the corporation must make the decision to place the ad, but the idea that these individuals are thereby fostering their self-expression or cultivating their critical faculties is fanciful. It is entirely possible that the corporation’s electoral message will conflict with their personal convictions. Take away the ability to use general treasury funds for some of those ads, and no one’s autonomy, dignity, or political equality has been impinged upon in the least.