Theodore Roosevelt on Citizens United v. FEC

by zunguzungu

In case you were wondering what an actual conservative opinion might look like — as opposed to naked partisan corruption — the president who supervised the passage of the laws just overturned by five appointed supreme court justices had the following to say about why regulating elections is actually an important thing to do:

“This government is not and never shall be government by a plutocracy…The noblest of all forms of government is self-government, but it is also the most difficult. We who possess this priceless boon and who desire to hand it on to our children and our children’s children should ever bear in mind the thought so finely expressed by Burke:

‘Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites; in proportion as they are disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society can not exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there be within the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of Intemperate minds can not be free. Their passions forge their fetters.’

“Recent events have emphasized the importance of an early and exhaustive consideration of this question, to see whether it is not possible to furnish better safeguards than the several states have been able to furnish against corruption of the flagrant kind which has been exposed. It has been only too clearly shown that certain of the men at the head of these large corporations take but small note of the ethical distinction between honesty and dishonesty; they draw the line only this side of what may be called law-honesty, the kind of honesty necessary in order to avoid falling into the clutches of the law.

“The United States should in this respect follow the policy of other nations by providing adequate national supervision of commercial interests which are clearly national in character.

“In my last annual message I said:

The power of the government to protect the integrity of the elections of its own officials is inherent and has been recognized and affirmed by repeated declarations of the Supreme court. There is no enemy of free government more dangerous and none so insidious as the corruption of the electorate. No one defends or excuses corruption and it would seem to follow that none would oppose vigorous measures to eradicate it. I recommend the enactment of a law directed against bribery and corruption in federal courts. The details of such a law may be safely left to the wise discretion of the congress, but it should go as far under the constitution as it is possible to go and should include severe penalties against him who gives or receives a bribe intended to influence his act or opinion as an elector, and provisions for the publication not only of the expenditures for nominations and elections of all candidates, but also of all contributions received and expenditures made by political committees.’

“I desire to repeat this recommendation. In political campaigns in a country as large and populous as ours it is inevitable that there should be much expense of an entirely legitimate kind. This, of course, means that many contributions, and some of them of large size, must be made and, as a matter of fact, in any big political contest such contributions are always made to both sides. It is entirely proper both to give and receive them, unless there is an improper motive connected with either gift or reception. If they are extorted by any kind of pressure or promise, express or implied, direct or indirect, in the way of favor or immunity, then the giving or receiving becomes not only improper but criminal. It will undoubtedly be difficult as a matter of practical detail to shape an act which shall guard with reasonable certainty against such misconduct, but if it is possible to secure by law the full and verified publication in detail of all the sums contributed to and expended by the candidates or committees of any political parties the result cannot but be wholesome.

All contributions by corporations to any political committee or for any political purpose should be forbidden by law; directors should not be permitted to use stockholders’ money for such purposes, and, moreover, a prohibition of this kind would be, as far as it went, an effective method of stopping the evils aimed at in corrupt practices acts. Net only should both the national and the several state legislatures forbid any officer of a corporation from using the money of the corporation in or about any election, but they should also forbid such use of money in connection with any legislation save by the employment of counsel in public manner for distinctly legal services.”