Toyota's lobbying blitz
The Post reported Monday that Toyota has been spending a little money around the edges to better communicate with our elected officials. A million bucks in donations, a million bucks to charities preferred by key members of Congress, a 32-person (and growing) lobbying operation -- what’s a little free speech among friends? I’m sure it’s a coincidence, but Toyota spent $45,000 feting Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.), who, oh my gosh, happens to chair one of the relevant transportation committees readying for hearings on the company.
Well I, for one, am heartened to see that Toyota managed to exercise its First Amendment rights, using avenues open to it even before the Supreme Court overturned a slew of campaign finance rules in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. After reading the opinion, I was convinced that corporate America had been rendered mute by restrictions on political speech. I’m glad to see that a plucky little guy such as Toyota still managed to make some friends in D.C. despite the barriers.
Even so, the court decided, corporations needed more. In Citizens United, it was so worried about corporate rights that it upchucked all over stare decisis and found that the government cannot restrict corporate spending in the run-up to an election. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the 5-4 majority, explained, “This court now concludes that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” He also helpfully explained, “On certain topics, corporations may possess valuable expertise, leaving them the best equipped to point out errors or fallacies in speech of all sorts, including the speech of candidates and elected officials.”
Hear, hear! What kind of cynical naysayer would imagine a conflict of interest just because some corporate money had been spent? My guess is that if you call up Rockefeller’s office, you will get just as much time as Toyota. Just give a ring and say, “Hi, I’m sorry I wasn’t able to attend that dinner in your honor, but I’m hoping to come by and chat about auto safety.” You will be ushered right in.
I also appreciate the court’s “valuable expertise” point. Who better to speak to product defect cases than the company with billions of dollars in potential liability? Fortunately, with the new court decision Toyota won’t be restricted to nickel-and-diming its message through the halls of Congress anymore. With the 2010 elections just around the corner, it can share its valuable expertise at will in the district of every committee member. After all, why should Toyota be treated any differently than the rest of us?
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