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Could Democracy Be Destroyed in the Name of Free Speech?

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The First Amendment metaphor of "the marketplace of ideas" envisioned the barter and exchange of ideas, not their purchase and sale. The concept has always been that the robust discussion of divergent views and principles would allow for the public to make informed decisions. But what happens when those with unlimited resources overwhelm those who cannot compete financially? By extending the right of free speech to corporations, the Supreme Court in the Citizens United case has "unleveled" the playing field.

Let's face it -- the wealthy have always had a more powerful voice than the poor or the middle class. Those with money have traditionally influenced elections and have benefited from their ability to do so. But corporate money, the super PACs, have the capacity to tip the scales so far that even near balance is virtually impossible. We have seen evidence of it already in Iowa. After watching the media predict ever-changing winners for the last six months of an election (if it can be called that) which has no real meaning, the destruction of Newt Gingrich's campaign through TV ads is an event worth noting (even though there is some joy in it).

He describes the ads as "negative" while others describe them as the "truth." But no matter what their characterization, they are evidence of the power that has been granted by virtue of the Supreme Court's decision. And although the danger is huge in the national arena, I fear most for local races -- such as judicial elections. A corporation or industry can assure the election or defeat of a judicial candidate merely through the expenditure of large sums of money.

The isolation of the PACs from the candidates and the thought that disclosure and transparency will somehow correct the problems are both myths. Knowing who the culprits are or trying to read the small, fleeting print at the bottom of the ads is unlikely to diminish their effectiveness. Learning that the contributors and creators are somehow connected to the candidate being aided by the negativity of another or lionized through praise will come as a surprise to no one. Is there anyone who does not suspect that the attack ads against Newt Gingrich in Iowa were being directed by the Romney camp? So here we are struggling to find a valid and constitutional way to take the influence of money out of politics, only to end up strengthening its role. True, the consequences may not be as dire as many fear and predict, but wouldn't it be ironic if free speech -- which we all hold as one of our dearest freedoms and bastions of our democracy --could cause its destruction.

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