Yes, corporations do have rights

By Tibor Machan: Freedom New Mexico columnist

It has puzzled me for some time why campaign contributions are considered a First Amendment constitutional issue. If I write a check to some candidate, I am not talking, writing an essay, carrying some poster in a parade or anything that could be construed as speech or writing, so the freedom to speak or write is moot in this context. What I am doing is making use of my own money or resources and that, of course, everyone has the right to do.

Suppose now that I have started a company and others are voting stockholders in it and we have decided, by following faithfully the legal bylaws, to spend some of our resources on supporting some political measure or candidate. Why should this be anyone’s business other than those whose funds are being used? It is giving what belongs to us, the corporation, to the organization.And free men and women may not be barred from doing this.

I have heard it exclaimed that corporations are not individuals with rights. But why not? Corporations are established and maintained by individuals with rights, no different from teams or orchestras.

All this is a matter of property rights, like my giving my car to some group soliciting such “in kind” contributions (as many now are). Or giving it to some friend. And if I am part of a large group like a corporation, with all kinds of internal rules establishing how decisions about using and disposing the company’s funds must be made, and these rules are followed, why would anyone from the outside get to have a say about where our funds may or may not go (so long as the recipient is no outlaw)?

All the fuss about the various Supreme Court and other court rulings pertaining to campaign contributions would, I believe, subside once the matter were put into the right framework, namely the exercise of the right to private property. It is not about free speech but about freedom to use what belongs to one as he or she — or they — see fit.

Maybe the reason this approach has been so widely ignored is that people who favor the freedom to be able to spend one’s money how one wishes to do it lack confidence these days in the constitutional status of the right to private property, a right only mentioned in the Fifth Amendment and implicit in several others that prohibit government to embark upon various intrusive policies — unreasonable searches and seizures or the like. Sadly, only the First Amendment to the Constitution amounts to a flat-out, nearly unambiguous statement of individual rights, comparable to what is found in the non-legal Declaration of Independence. So in order to secure the right of private property despite its neglect in the Constitution, supporters have decided to try to convert the First Amendment to one that defends private property rights. But this tactic has proved to be muddled and confusing and, ultimately, disingenuous.