Exxon is Not the Audubon Society

Kevin Drum writes a post that I would interpret as saying "I really can't dispute the Supreme Court speech decision on principles but I am going to anyway because I don't like the result.  He ends by saying

In the end, I guess I think the court missed the obvious "” and right "” decision: recognizing that while nonprofit corporations created for the purpose of political advocacy can be fairly described as "organized groups of people" and treated as such, that doesn't require us to be willfully oblivious to the fact that big public companies are far more than that and can be treated differently. Exxon is not the Audubon Society and Google is not the NRA. There's no reason we have to pretend otherwise.

This is silly.  Just because people are not organized primarily as an influence group does not mean that those folks, once they are pursuing their goals, don't find the need to try to have influence, or have somehow given up their right to try to have influence.  And whose fault is this anyway if Exxon shareholders feel the need to influence the political process?  If the Left hadn't targeted commerce with a never-ending proliferation of restrictions and wealth-confiscations, commercial enterprises probably would not see much reason to waste money on advocacy.  I can tell you that the last possible thing I want to spend money on in my company is kissing some Senator's ass or buffing up the NY Times ad budget, and would spend money to do so only under a pretty existential threat.

But why is there some mythology that members of Audubon or the NRA somehow have more control of the organization's advocacy than Exxon's shareholders?  Sure, when you join the NRA you probably have a good idea what their positions are going to be, but are you really any less able to predict Exxon's positions on most issues?  As I wrote in his comment section:

When you say "Exxon is not the Audubon society," I am not sure how? I am a stockholder of the first and a member of and contributor to the second. I have bought products from both. I have written both (well, actually I wrote Mobil once but it is the same now as Exxon) about their issue advocacy, each time with equally small effect. It is as difficult as a stockholder of Exxon to even get a disclosure of their issue advocacy and lobbying efforts as it is for Audubon (though I am smart enough to take a pretty good guess at both). Neither allows me, as a shareholder/member/contributor to vote on their advocacy/lobbying, either in terms of amount spent or direction. Each carry substantial influence in particular government realms.

So I am confused how they are different, except perhaps that you are personally sympathetic to one and not the other.

Just to remind you the existential threat that causes corporations to want to speak out in public, I will take an example from Drum himself, when he said:

It means the health insurance industry is scared that we might actually do something in 2009 and they want to be seen as something other than completely obstructionist. That means only one thing: they've shown fear, and now it's time to bore in for the kill and gut them like trouts. Let's get to it.

So I guess Exxon is indeed different from the Audubon Society - no one is trying to gut the Audubon Society like trouts.


  1. IGotBupkis:

    The Audubon society isn't an eeeeeeevil materialistic corporation existing only for its own benefit.... Exxxxxxxon is. 'Nuff said, right?

  2. Master of Obvious:

    I agree with the Supreme's decision.

    However, just wait until gov sponsored entities start their tricks. Fannie Mae et. al. donating. They already recycle and enrich Democrats following elected office. Soon to come buying the seats prior to the election.

  3. Eric H:

    If the Left hadn’t targeted commerce with a never-ending proliferation of restrictions and wealth- confiscations, commercial enterprises probably would not see much reason to waste money on advocacy.

    Demonstrably untrue. Pick up a copy of Kolko's Triumph of Conservatism or Railroads and Regulation. When they couldn't make cartels work, they turned to the feds to get the force of law behind their efforts to enforce discipline. Folsom differentiates in Myth of the Robber Barons between regular and political entrepreneurs, the latter being people who turn to politics to get ahead. Look at the Diane von Furstenberg-led effort to get laws to enforce design patents in fashion, or efforts to obtain property for private parties through eminent domain. The original FDA legislation was passed for the benefit of the meat-packing industry. Corn, cotton, and sugar price supports for ADM and other large corporate players? Steel tarriffs?

  4. JohnF:

    "Exxon is not the Audubon Society and Google is not the NRA. There’s no reason we have to pretend otherwise."

    True, of course. And the NAACP is not the KKK. Let's deprive one of the right to speak. Your choice, Kevin?

  5. Ken:

    John F, perzackly. A more succinct definition of the Rule of Man (along with an example of the type that finds the Rule of Man a feature and not a bug) you'll look long and hard to find.

  6. Ken:

    Actually, the same point applies to Eric H's objection. Positive law that does not comport with the natural law (law intended to protect natural rights of individuals) always and everywhere, without exception, ends in the Rule of Man -- via the Miracle of Selective Enforcement if via no other means.

  7. IgotBupkis:

    > Actually, the same point applies to Eric H’s objection.

    Ken, are you claiming that Eric's comment is incorrect?

    I think he's telling the truth, and that the original assertion is, in fact, invalid -- it wasn't the Left's attempts to screw things up that encouraged attempts to manipulate The Law. It is, in fact, human nature to manipulate The Law, as well as The Market, to one's own benefit. The rules need to take that into account as much as they can, and within the eternal problem of "Quis Custodiet..."

    This was one of the operating principles of the FFs, and why they tried to institute a substantially limited government. With time and great chicanery, of course, those limitations have been eroded away, and now we have the issues of a giant Federal behemoth stomping around like a bull in a china shop.

    Robert Heinlein had a throwaway idea (IIRC, in Starship Troopers, possibly The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress) wherein he suggested a two-body legislative system with one body that passes laws by a two-thirds majority, and another which repeals laws by a one-third minority -- the reasoning being that if 1/3rd of the people didn't think something ought to be law, it probably ought not to be.

    Understanding of the historical role of the Jury in Law Enforcement is that the 12-man jury, in fact, acts to defacto repeal any law which more than about 12% of the people disagree with in the form of Jury Nullification. It is probably general ignorance of the jury's Right to Nullify the law which has probably allowed non-violent possession laws against drugs to remain in effect, as I suspect that well over 12% of the populace object to usage/possession laws for all but the hardest of drugs.

    The fact is that there should be a system for removal repeal of laws and regulations which is easier to perform than the passage of them. The act of winnowing The Law on a consistent basis would be a very valuable social function. I'd suggest to anyone reading that, if you are ever able to provide input on The Next Society (because sooner or later this one seems likely to collapse) that you express that notion -- of continual and steady repeal of all laws and regulations be easier than passage of same. Perhaps all laws should "sunset" -- all of them, even "murder", etc. (not because it'll stick, but just to make sure there's never any "special class" of always-enacted laws which can get relentlessly expanded, as WILL HAPPEN)

  8. Dan Smith:

    Captain Reynault in Casablanca: "I'm shocked--shocked--to see that gambling is going on in here!"

  9. morganovich:

    at the end of the days, this is a bit of a misframing of the issue.

    the real problem is that we cannot trust our elected officials to honestly and morally choose winners and losers and to adjudicate disputes with economic consequences between interests. the same guys who rail against corporate speech tend to support union speech, which is at least as suspect (and unions far outspend corporations in political donations)

    nothing we ban or don't ban in terms of speech does anything to address this. trying to stop economically interested parties from influencing government when government has a great deal of influence over them is like trying to stop drugs by making them illegal. all it does is raise prices and drive the practice underground, worsening the problem.

    to the extent that government must affect economic and social outcomes, the best we can hope for is open, accurately attributed speech and donations. ban companies from doing it, and they just hire lobbyists who do it away from public scrutiny or create layers of obfuscatory organizations (like 527's).

    but far and away the best way to take influence out of government is to take influence away from government. the less say they have, the less incentive to influence them, and the cleaner the outcomes.

  10. Ken:

    @IgotBupkis -- Not at all. The point (that I did not make clearly enough) is that statutory law is the basis of rent-seeking via the use of the blunt instrument of the State, and where it _invariably_ ends up. "Left" and "right" are irrelevant.

    Human nature is what it relevant. Morganovich did a better job than I did making the point, especially the last sentence of the comment.

  11. John Dewey:

    It's not freedom of speaking, it's freedom of speech. The First Amendment is protecting each citizen from the power of the government to determine what each citizen may or may not hear.

    McCain-Feingold was an egregious violation of the right of the citizenry to hear the thoughts of others.

    Hooray for Justices Roberts, Alito, Kennedy, Thomas, and Scalia!

  12. IgotBupkis:

    > but far and away the best way to take influence out of government is to take influence away from government. the less say they have, the less incentive to influence them, and the cleaner the outcomes.

    I strongly suspect we all agree pretty much on this essentially libertarian point. I just disagree with the idea that the Left has any more or less fault than the Right. Both sides have people spending money to buy favors from government, and, as you suggest -- the best solution is to remove the capacity to perform favors. The Left has lots of flaws, stupidities, an cluelessness. No reason to ascribe something solely (or even largely) to them that's not unique to them in the least.