October 29, 2010
I would like to encourage all readers to vote, and to vote your conscience, for candidates and issues that you think are best for you and your community. Do your research, read the voters pamphlet, take advice if you want it, but vote your conscience.
When someone else – a candidate, a friend, a special interest group, an employer – tells you how they think you should vote they are doing two things, one good and one bad.
First they are telling you what their interests are, which is good. This is the beginning of an open dialogue about solutions and issues that we discuss far too little and far too simplistically.
Second, they are trying to tell you how to think. This is bad. One of the cornerstones of our freedom is the right to make up our own minds about the issues and candidates we decide to vote for and against.
The issue of free speech in elections took a dramatic turn last January, when the U.S. Supreme Court, in Citizens vs. the Federal Election Commission, essentially ruled that corporations and other organizations have the same free speech rights as individuals with respect to issue and candidate elections.
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In so ruling they decided, in my opinion correctly, that it’s better to have private organizations spending millions of dollars bombarding us with advertising and information telling us how to vote than it is to have the government limiting how we talk to each other about elections.
That being said, this bright line decision carries with it the potential for some unintended consequences. Free to influence whomever they want, corporations can now use their money and influence to persuade stockholders, customers, even employees to vote in ways that are aligned with their corporate interests on both issue and candidate elections.
Why is this important? Because it alters the landscape of one of our most important duties as citizens, to vote our own conscience – the reason we are provided with anonymous ballots – so that others cannot decide if our political leanings meet their particular litmus test.
The possible result? Candidates and issue advocates will pay more attention to corporate interests than the interests of the People.
Justice John Paul Stevens, in his dissenting opinion, stated it succinctly:
“The difference between selling a vote and selling access is a matter of degree, not kind. And selling access is not qualitatively different from giving special preference to those who spent money on one’s behalf.”
In elections, money talks. As individual voters we must remain relevant by paying attention, expressing our opinions and voting our individual conscience.
Paul W. Menter