A poll conducted by SoonerPoll reveals that 80.9 percent of Oklahomans believe that money is a form of political speech. Although most Oklahomans agree that money is a form of speech, most still feel the need for greater restrictions that are not generally associated with speech.
An overwhelming 81 percent of Oklahomans believe there should be money limits placed on individuals donating to election campaigns, while an even higher 85 percent believe that the amount of money corporations and labor unions can spend in elections should be limited.
Party identification had little bearing on results as Republican and Democratic respondents both favored money limits on individual and corporate campaign contribution limits.
Despite the fact that 85 percent Oklahomans feel limits should be placed on the amount corporations and labor unions can spend in elections, the state legislature voted to “delete prohibition on corporate expenditures” last March. The vote was a party-line split where only one Democrat, Sen. Mary Easley, voted with the Republicans in favor of removing the prohibition.
“The law still constrains corporations and labor unions from giving their money directly to candidates,” Keith Gaddie, Vice President of SoonerPoll, said. “However, the public views the ability to give to candidates and the ability to spend in support of a candidate as basically the same thing. And, despite viewing money as a form of speech, they’re willing to limit the excess of that speech.”
Sen. Glenn Coffee introduced the bill that was made possible by a recent Supreme Court decision concerning campaign finance reform.
Campaign finance reform has been a hot button issue for decades, but in January the issue of corporate contributions culminated with the landmark Supreme Court ruling in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee.
The case came as result of a dispute over whether the non-profit corporation Citizens United could air via video on demand a film critical of Hillary Clinton and whether the group could advertise the film in broadcast ads featuring Clinton’s image. Both airing and advertising the film were direct violations of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, also known as the McCain–Feingold Act.
Citizens United questioned the constitutionality of those acts and won the suite in the Supreme Court, despite over a century of precedent enacted by congress and state legislatures. The 5-4 conservative majority decision equated the free speech protections of individuals and corporations, making corporations free to spend unlimited amounts of money in political campaigns. Corporations and labor unions are still prohibited from giving directly to candidates.
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SoonerPoll asked respondents if they thought a corporation should be considered a person under the law and thus enjoy the same rights and liberties as an individual. Results showed that 48.7 percent of respondents agreed with the ruling while only 41 percent disagreed, 10.3 percent had no opinion.
“Most people are unaware of the ruling and its consequences, but they still want tighter restrictions on wealthy individuals as well as corporations,” Gaddie said. “It is a populist impulse that is inherent to American politics.”
As proof, 84.1 percent of respondents who agreed with the ruling that corporations should enjoy the same rights and liberties as individuals said that there should be money limits on corporate political support.
Critics of the ruling see it as blatant judicial activism and fear that decreased regulation of campaign finance will create a political environment where candidates are beholden to corporations instead of the electorate.
“The majority’s approach to corporate electioneering marks a dramatic break from our past,” said Justice John Paul Stevens’ in his official dissent. Stevens went on to note that “the Court’s ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation.”
Supporters of the decision praise it as a victory for the First Amendment over a system of censorship. “Congress may not prohibit political speech, even if the speaker is a corporation or union,” Chief Justice John Roberts said in his concurring opinion.
SoonerPoll.com, Oklahoma’s Public Opinion Pollster, commissioned and conducted the scientific study using live interviewers by telephone of 503 likely voters from May 25 – June 8, 2010. The study has a margin of error of ± 4.4 percent.