Editorial: Nevada senators back amendment abridging free speech

Nevada Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto, left, and Jacky Rosen. (R-J file pix)

This past week every Democratic member of the U.S. Senate — including Nevada Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen — signed on as sponsors of a proposed constitutional amendment that would rip the heart from the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution — the part that says, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech …”

The Democracy for All Amendment, as it is wrongly called, would overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC. That 5-4 ruling overturned a portion of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law under which the Federal Election Commission barred the airing of a movie produced by Citizens United that was critical of Hillary Clinton during the 2008 Democratic primary.

The court said the First Amendment was written to protect speech, no matter who the speaker may be, whether an individual or a group, such as a corporation or a union.

The proposed amendment would allow Congress and the states to “distinguish between natural persons and corporations or other artificial entities created by law, including by prohibiting such entities from spending money to influence elections.”

Sen. Cortez Masto put out a press release saying the amendment is intended to get big money out of politics. “Citizens United opened the floodgates for big money in politics by wrongly allowing corporations and special interests to buy undue influence in American elections,” Nevada’s senior senator wrote. “It’s time the effects of this disastrous ruling were reversed. A constitutional amendment putting the democratic process back in the hands of voters will help ensure that our government represents the will of Americans, not just the wealthy few.”

Sen. Rosen has long been a proponent of overturning Citizens United. During her campaign against Sen. Dean Heller, she declared, “Washington hasn’t been listening to the needs of Nevadans because billionaires and special interests are drowning out the voices of real people in our communities. If we’re going to make real progress on issues like climate change, gun violence and health care, then we need to bring some transparency and accountability to our broken campaign finance system. Unlike Senator Heller, I will stand up for Nevadans by speaking out for real reform and a reversal of this catastrophic Supreme Court decision.”

Ironically, the amendment concludes by stating, “Nothing in this article shall be construed to grant Congress or the States the power to abridge the freedom of the press.’’

Who do they think owns the “press” in the United States? Billionaires and corporations, such as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post, and casino owner Sheldon Adelson, who owns the largest newspaper in Nevada. A handful of giant corporations own the vast majority of news media outlets in this country. In order to get around this amendment, all a billionaire or corporation has to do is buy a “press.”

In fact, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion in Citizens United, singled out the media exemption that was written into McCain-Feingold. Kennedy wrote, “The media exemption discloses further difficulties with the law now under consideration. There is no precedent supporting laws that attempt to distinguish between corporations which are deemed to be exempt as media corporations and those which are not. ‘We have consistently rejected the proposition that the institutional press has any constitutional privilege beyond that of other speakers.’ … And the exemption results in a further, separate reason for finding this law invalid: Again by its own terms, the law exempts some corporations but covers others, even though both have the need or the motive to communicate their views.”

Aren’t political parties themselves tantamount to corporations — groups of individuals uniting their voices and money in furtherance of a political agenda. Should political parties be silenced?

As Justice Kennedy concluded, “The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves.”

Congress should not deem itself the arbiter of who gets to speak and who must be gagged. Cortez Masto and Rosen should reverse course.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

20 comments on “Editorial: Nevada senators back amendment abridging free speech

  1. Maureen Karas says:

    Thank you for this op-Ed. Every time this subject comes up I ask: what about labor unions? Culinary/SEIU/UAW/AFLCIO on and on. We know in Clark Unions have a huge influence -buses, boots on the ground.

    Mo Karas

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Anonymous says:

    Corporations were never intended to have rights protected by the Constitution and money was never intended to be mis-interpreted as speech.

    But for Uncle Thomas accepting a huge bribe, and then compounding this by lying about it, then by failing to recuse himself, then by casting the deciding vote, we wouldn’t be having this conversation at all.

    Plus, 80% of the country (and yes that includes whatever decent republicans left) wants this wretched refuse of a decision done away with by any means available so whatever else it may be, it is a good campaign issue for the good guys.

    And congratulations to all the democrats behind it.

  3. The “right of the people peaceably to assemble” isn’t about block parties. It is about joining to further an objective. That includes political parties, corporations and unions. Denying the right to spend money to spread one’s viewpoints and objectives is denying free speech.

  4. As for 80 percent of the country, that is why we have a Constitution. To protect individuals from the tyranny of the majority.

  5. Bob Coffin says:

    Tom, in 1976, I managed the successful state Senate campaign of bill hernstadt, a wealthy Democrat. Near the end of the election he was attacked by the Republicans and needed to spend big to overcome the attacks. But, nevada had a spending limit. Fortunately for us the supremes had decided in Buckley v Valeo in 1972 that “personal” spending limits violated free speech. So he spent and saved his election.

    That should be as far as it goes. It is obvious that corps are not people altho a wealthy person like Adelson could already spend what he wants on his own election and disclose. Now, CU burst thru and expanded it. That is just nuts. A Corp should not be able to spend stockholder money without a stockholder’s consent but that is what CU does. Unions cannot spend due unless it is from a segregated fund. And that us what corps can so by forming a PAC ans having all their overpaid bosses and suckups donate willingly. It should have been left alone.

    And the “press” exemption is just silly and should be removed for the shortcomings you cite and more.

  6. Corporations have the same rights and protections under the Constitution as individual humans.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Thomas for some reason you keep inserting words into the Constitution for this purpose that just aren’t there and yet, out of the other side of your mouth, and in relation to other arguments, you insist that only the express language in the Constitution be considered; why is that?

    I mean you cite the rights of PEOPLE to assemble, and then out of that somehow you get to “and therefore CORPORATIONS have rights. It’s….not there and no matter how hard you try, or I should say, no matter how hard people who seem to want corporations read into the Constitution, it’s just not there.

    And, similarly, money is not speech (I mean, those beautiful magical wonderful oh so intelligent founding fathers knew what money was, they could have written the constitution just this way “and any corporation can donate all the money they want, to any politician they want, whenever they want, for as long as they want, and no liberal can object…whereas etc etc”. But they didn’t and as Uncle Thomas would say, if he hadn’t had his hand in the cookie jar “it’s not for us to figure out what they mean cause they wrote this thing to be understood by a sixth grader”

  8. In the 1886 case Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Rail Road the court reporter quoted Chief Justice Morrison Waite as saying: “The Court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution which forbids a state to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws applies to these corporations. We are all of opinion that it does.”

    Buckley v. Valeo: “the First Amendment requires the invalidation of the Act’s independent expenditure ceiling, § 608(e)(1), its limitation on a candidate’s expenditures from his own personal funds, § 608(a), and its ceilings on over-all campaign expenditures, § 608(e). These provisions place substantial and direct restrictions [p59] on the ability of candidates, citizens, and associations to engage in protected political expression, restrictions that the First Amendment cannot tolerate.”

  9. Contribution limits were OK with the high court, but not limits as to how much a person or group could spend independently.

  10. Anonymous says:

    The court reporter Huh?

    One thief said one thing to another, which was then repeated by other thieves, leading up to Uncle Thomas.

    Interesting, in fact, fascinating.

    “The rules of judicial ethics were not well developed in the Gilded Age, however, and the self-assured Field, who feared the forces of socialism, did not hesitate to weigh in. Taxing the property of railroads differently, he said, was like allowing deductions for property “owned by white men or by old men, and not deducted if owned by black men or young men.”

    So, with Field on the Court, still more twists were yet to come. The Supreme Court’s opinions are officially published in volumes edited by an administrator called the reporter of decisions. By tradition, the reporter writes up a summary of the Court’s opinion and includes it at the beginning of the opinion. The reporter in the 1880s was J.C. Bancroft Davis, whose wildly inaccurate summary of the Southern Pacific case said that the Court had ruled that “corporations are persons within … the Fourteenth Amendment.” Whether his summary was an error or something more nefarious—Davis had once been the president of the Newburgh and New York Railway Company—will likely never be known.

    Field nonetheless saw Davis’s erroneous summary as an opportunity. A few years later, in an opinion in an unrelated case, Field wrote that “corporations are persons within the meaning” of the Fourteenth Amendment. “It was so held in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad,” explained Field, who knew very well that the Court had done no such thing.

    His gambit worked. In the following years, the case would be cited over and over by courts across the nation, including the Supreme Court, for deciding that corporations had rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.

    Indeed, the faux precedent in the Southern Pacific case would go on to be used by a Supreme Court that in the early 20th century became famous for striking down numerous economic regulations, including federal child-labor laws, zoning laws, and wage-and-hour laws. Meanwhile, in cases like the notorious Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), those same justices refused to read the Constitution as protecting the rights of African Americans, the real intended beneficiaries of the Fourteenth Amendment. Between 1868, when the amendment was ratified, and 1912, the Supreme Court would rule on 28 cases involving the rights of African Americans and an astonishing 312 cases on the rights of corporations.”


  11. Anonymous says:

    Which of course leaves us again with NOTHING in the Constitution about a corporation. At all.

    And certainly nothing about any “rights” of a corporation.

    Jefferson said it best.

    “I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country. Thomas Jefferson

    Hard to believe you’d be on their side Thomas

  12. I am on he side of free speech. Let we the people hear all comers and decide for ourselves. We don’t need you to protect us poor morons from hearing the words of certain groups.

  13. Bob Coffin says:

    Tom, I think you are ignoring the obvious difference between the civil liberties afforded individuals in the Constitution and the newly invented “rights” of a corporation. Nothing wrong with wealthy candidates backing themselves. No one has even challenged to my knowlege, the current $2700 max per election in federal races and the state limit is more than that. No challenge there.

    But, this is all about real monied interests having free reign to buy elections and money buys elections. So, this appears partisan in that CU was partisan. It takes real blinders to not know that Republicans.control the lion’s share of money in the country. No sensible person I know begrudges that advantage because the assumption is that they earned it. However, to have free use of stockholder money to buy elections is too far.a leap even for mainstream Republicans. They realize it can cut both ways. CU makes it so easy to launder money from dubious sources from here and abroad that to a non political person it seems to be laughable. The Court majority knew where they were going and that is why they were appointed. This is a Federalist Society wet dream and they do the vetting on most Republican appointees.

    Now, Republicans have been harping for decades about unions and Taft-Hartley has been very clear that only money that is okayed by a member for political purposes can be used by their leadership. Sure, there are violations but they are peanuts compared to corporate sources. The rules are enforced and some union leaders have been nailed. Still, the scope of that is minuscule compared to the new potentials out there.

    Main street Republicans and Libertarians do not want international corporations controlling the elections but they are not paying.attention to the pervasive power of that.connection. International, by definition, means they have extraterritorial interests to protect and they are not aligned with yours or mine. CU should go with all parties in this country’s blessing at how close we.came to losing.control of our affairs. 2016 should make that case no matter who knew what or when or who colluded or not. The harm is.still there.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Thomas you undersell yourself; you’re not one of the morons, you’re one of the elite. You’re better’n all them (and most of us) you’re smarter, more in touch, and oh so wise as to what them powers that be are always trying to get over on us.

    I don’t have an doubt that you’re able to take care of you and yours even if bombarded by the lies that people tell. But let’s face it, lots of us aren’t so blessed. We don’t have the time to devote to weeding out the lies from the truth as well as you. We don’t even have the ability even if we did have the time. Instead, we come home, open up our beverage of choice, slip into our loosest fitting…garment, and turn the tube on then, so that when some sharpy tells us, with a backdrop of fluttering flags and the Star-Spangled Banner playing in the background, that them foreign devils are just one passing thought from dropping the big one on us, and we got to go over and stop em, it’s all we can do to control ourselves from joining up but we damn sure are going to be supporting it!

    Little did we know though, that behind the scenes, the advertisement was paid for by Halliburton all so as to lead us to go and protect their oil.

    In my world, the one where corporations ain’t people until the Lone Star State straps one of them the chair, that sort of free speech don’t happen.

  15. Then our democratic republic is a failed experiment. If someone has to be the speech gatekeeper, that person is in charge. Despotic.

  16. Doug Bradford says:

    Change the Election laws regarding contributions…not the First Amendment to the Constitution.

  17. Anonymous says:

    That’s just nuts.

    You’re letting some crook inform you as to what the Constitution says and now you’re claiming that if we don’t live by the crooks lying interpretation, instead of what the founding fathers said, that somehow the founding fathers vision for the country was corrupted?

    Dang. That’s just nuts.

  18. I am not relying on the Founders or the courts. Just using them to buoy my arguments. I am standing on principles.

  19. Anonymous says:


  20. Rincon says:

    I believe the whole Founding Fathers argument is moot. In their wisdom they gave us a way to amend the Constitution, but they made that hurdle high. If we overcome that hurdle, then we are in keeping with the intent of the Founders.

    It is impossible for corporations to be treated like human beings in every way. If you kill a corporation, it is a civil action. If you do the same to a human, it is a criminal act, punishable by life in prison – unless the murderer is a corporation, in which case, it is usually a civil action, although a few individuals of the larger organism can be jailed. The murderer (corporation) usually survives intact, free to pursue its life with only minor restrictions.

    Corporations often have an easy exit, which is not available to humans. It is common in the construction industry for a company to fold, only to open again under a new name. All liability and debt is generally erased. Owners are often handsomely rewarded if the bankruptcy is planned well ahead of time. Although humans can also declare bankruptcy, they cannot simply be reborn as corporations can.

    Corporations can live under the laws of another state with ease. Individuals generally cannot. Individuals can invoke the 5th Amendment. Corporations cannot.

    If corporations do not have to be treated as a human in many situations, then there is nothing to dissuade us from deciding on the merits of the argument alone. The law simply need not be in the way so far as I can see.

    As a practical issue, it is nearly impossible for an average investor to closely monitor the contributions or independent political spending of a corporation. It is ridiculous on the face of it for anyone to believe that anywhere near 100% of almost any large corporation’s investors support all of it’s political contributions. Since all organizations are owned/operated by individuals, why should it be necessary to allow contributions by any group? The individuals making up the group are free to take the advice of the group or not and can contribute on their own.

    As a possible compromise, we should at least consider a quick and easy-to-operate search capability on line so that any citizen can find the source of all contributions and independent spending over a given dollar amount. People who whisper are allowed privacy. Those speaking through a bullhorn voluntarily give up that right so that they can reach a greater number of individuals. I see no reason why the same philosophy shouldn’t apply to large donors. The only way to reduce pay to play activity is through transparency.

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