Jan 15 2012

Stance, Citizens United, and other things

Published by at 5:25 pm under Rainey,website

Thanks to John Runft, for offering in a comment the opportunity to address a few items – widely various, but still – worth noting all at once.

His comment, first, came in response to a post by blogger Barrett Rainey, “American democracy is drowning in a sea of money,” critical of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision and its effects on politics. Runft, who is a Boise attorney long active in Idaho politics, took issue with Rainey:

In re Barrett Rainey’s “American Democracy is Drowning in a Sea of Money, let me suggest that the solution is not to blame SCOTUS’s decision Citzens United and call for more repressive regulations. The decision is sound and complies with your above “Our Stance” # 7 regarding freedom. As you imply in # 7, the corollary to freedom is responsibility. The rationale of the decision is correct, as the Court explained, on grounds of individual freedom. Now, the next step which appertains to individual responsibility needs to take place to create the balance reflected in # 7. That next step could possibly be accomplished by bringing suit against one of the PACs on the ground that it cannot qualify for immunity, because of its inherent anonymity, as a “public persona” under the N.Y. Times v,. Sullivan doctrine. Subjecting the PACs and their contributors liability for their slanders will solve much of the problem (similar to Great Britain where there is no N.Y. Times v,. Sullivan doctrine – although there are other problems in the reverse in G.B). Regrets for the foregoing ” 30 sec. shorthand.” John L. Runft

Three points here.

1. Rainey’s opinions are his own, and not necessarily mine (or Ridenbaugh Press’); we give free range to the resident bloggers who are or have been here, including including Chris Carlson and (formerly Chuck Malloy and others. We don’t always agree with any of them, which hopefully makes the site more interesting. So they may or may not in any given piece match up with “our stance”, and aren’t required to.

2. In this case, I generally agree with Rainey, and I think Runft misread the “our stance” – which is to say, this is where Ridenbaugh Press is coming from – item. Assuming here that we’re referring to the same item, it says:

Freedom in society is zero-sum, not prospectively infinite. If you create more in one place, there’s a real possibility you’re diminishing it somewhere else, and the equations should be watched closely. A guiding principle: Freedom generally should be spread widely rather than narrowly. Corollary: Among the most important things to understand about our society are what things are, and are not, zero-sum. Additional corollary: Concentrated power, wherever it may be found, should be viewed with the deepest of suspicion and should ordinarily be met with a pick ax to break it into pieces. Further corollary: Power is inherently relatively diffuse in republics, concentrated in empires.

Runft is bringing external ideas into the equation noted here, altering its intended point. The concern in our paragraph above is about concentrations of power, and while we don’t buy the idea that money equals speech, we do accept that it equals – or at least can buy – power. The problem with Citizens United is that it opens the door to concentrations of money (and power) on behalf of relatively few people, creating just the kind of power – and freedom – imbalance warned about. If, as I suggest, “Freedom generally should be spread widely rather than narrowly,” Citizens United allows for greatly massed money to cut precisely in the other direction.

3. That said, I’m fascinated by Runft’s suggested remedy: “That next step could possibly be accomplished by bringing suit against one of the PACs on the ground that it cannot qualify for immunity, because of its inherent anonymity, as a “public persona” under the N.Y. Times v,. Sullivan doctrine. Subjecting the PACs and their contributors liability for their slanders will solve much of the problem.” While I doubt it would come close to solving all the problems of Citizens United, I do think there’s some prospectively highly useful legal ground there, and his suggestion might be useful in constraining at least some of the abuses.

Thanks for the comment.

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