Jul 11, 2016 - 9:00am

Defending Free Speech Rights

Chief Executive Officer, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Over the Fourth of July holiday, Americans gathered to celebrate the freedoms that make the United States the envy of the world. But in our current political environment, it’s not enough to celebrate our freedoms — we must also protect them. Fundamental liberties, including free speech, free association, and due process, are coming under attack from the left and the right. The business community must increasingly defend its right to speak out and participate in the political and policy realms.

We are not afraid of a vigorous debate on issues like trade, energy, the financial system, regulatory reform, and capitalism. We think we can win because we have the better arguments. Perhaps that’s why our opponents are trying to silence the voice of business through intimidation and overregulation.

For example, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has been asked by anti-business groups to make a rule that would compel public companies to disclose their spending on independent political speech. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and a handful of her colleagues are ramping up the pressure, blocking the confirmation of candidates for SEC commissioner because they will not pledge to support such a rule. It’s the worst kept secret in Washington that such measures are designed to identify donors and drive them right out of the public square.

Some are even willing to tear up the Constitution as we know it, and as the Founding Fathers wrote it, in order to silence business. Both candidates for president have been critical of Citizens United, the case in which the Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot deprive groups of their freedom to speak independently for or against candidates running for public office. One even said that the First Amendment should be rewritten if that’s what it takes to reverse the decision!

Unfortunately, there are enough examples like these to fill a book. Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel has catalogued the many efforts to suppress business and citizen engagement in the public debate and the political process in her new book The Intimidation Game. It’s an important and troubling expose that ought to concern Americans of all political stripes and prompt each of us to proactively defend the right of anyone to voice an opinion —even those we disagree with.

Business will lead the fight against efforts to trample free speech. It’s not just our rights and interests that are at stake —it’s our nation’s character and values.

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About the Author

About the Author

Thomas J. Donohue
Chief Executive Officer, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Thomas J. Donohue is chief executive officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.