Businesses have a right to free speech in elections

December 26, 2010

State Del. Jon Cardin's recent op-ed ("Force greater disclosure in Maryland," Dec. 24) regarding campaign finance left the unfounded impression that employers have a disproportionate voice in deciding elections and that the General Assembly must act to address this perceived threat. Unfortunately, there was little data provided, other than one Congressional election, and that did not support his assertion. Of the "nearly $4 million" in spending by outside groups in Maryland's 1st Congressional District race, over 60 percent of the money came from the Congressional campaign committees of the Democratic and Republican parties.

The Supreme Court's Citizens United decision earlier this year affirmed the First Amendment right of corporations, unions and other entities to engage in political speech through independent expenditures. Maryland, along with about 25 other states, has not restricted independent expenditures by such groups. Maryland's Attorney General has advised that the court's decision did not alter or call into question any Maryland law. In other words, nothing has changed.

While many bills were filed in the General Assembly last session on this issue, most would have unfairly limited the speech of employers while continuing to allow unrestricted spending by unions. Fortunately, all of the bills were rejected.

The Maryland Chamber of Commerce continues to support campaign finance reform legislation that treats employers and unions in an evenhanded fashion. Let's enact disclosure legislation for all independent expenditures in state elections, rather than trying to take away the free speech rights of employers.

Kathy Snyder, Annapolis

The writer is the president and CEO of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce.

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