Opinion: Democrats Like Corporate Free Speech Well Enough When They Agree with It

First, there was Chevron; now, there’s Exxon. The international oil-and-gas company is currently the target of two investigations — one by New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman, the second by California attorney general Kamala Harris. The prosecutors allege that Exxon “defrauded” its shareholders and the general public by misleading them about the impact of man-made climate change. In reality, Schneiderman and Harris, both Democrats, are using their prestigious perch to hassle a company for having views with which they disagree. And their recklessness is spreading. This week, attorneys general from 15 other states and territories joined Schneiderman and Harris in New York to announce that they, too, have no qualms about employing their offices in a naked display of political muscle; a couple of them are vowing to look into fossil-fuel operations in their jurisdictions. The coalition calls itself “AGs United for Clean Power.” Delete “Clean,” and the name would be more accurate. Democrats have long thrilled to the prospect of slapping biodegradable handcuffs around the wrists of those who disagree with them on the subject of climate change. In 2014, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. waxed tyrannical about tossing the “treasonous” Koch brothers into a sustainably designed jail cell, and climate scientists have fantasized about using RICO laws against “climate-change deniers.” It does not matter that “the science” is far from settled, that the “97 percent” consensus of scientists is bunk, or that there is a First Amendment that permits disagreement about matters of political debate. “Climate change is real; it is a threat to all the people we represent,” declared Schneiderman on Tuesday. And it’s time for a frog-march. Coincidentally, another Democrat is all in for frog-marches, just for different perps. On Thursday, in a letter to Securities and Exchange Commission chair Mary Jo White calling for an investigation into “contradictory statements” by financial-services providers with regard to a pending Department of Labor rule, Massachusetts senator Liz Warren observed: “Corporate interests have become accustomed to saying whatever they want about Washington policy debates, with little accountability when their predictions prove to be inaccurate.” Nudge, nudge. Add to these the years of handwringing over Citizens United, and Democrats seem to have a decided distaste for businesses’ weighing in freely on matters of public interest — and no compunctions about using the levers of the law to spank them for it. Coincidentally, that’s not the case where businesses agree with Democrats. In stark contrast with the above, several major corporations — Apple, Disney, the National Football League, and Salesforce.com — recently cowed Georgia governor Nathan Deal into vetoing a modest religious-freedom bill earlier this month; the bill would have provided limited state protections for religious believers’ free-exercise rights, often under pressure in the wake of the Supreme Court’s same-sex-marriage decision. Meanwhile, in North Carolina, a similar coalition of groups is trying to force the governor and legislature to repeal a bill that, among other things, requires that individuals using single-sex, multiple-occupancy bathrooms use the facilities that correspond to their birth-certificate gender. This is one instance of corporate free speech that Democrats are happy to endorse. As they did last year, when an uproar from businesses helped force Indiana governor Mike Pence into “clarifying” his state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Democrats are thrilled that Apple and the NFL and the rest are displaying a “conscience” and using the tactics at their disposal to influence public life. For the Left, businesses have a license to participate corporately in political life to the extent that they promote Democratic interests. Anything else is a license for Democrats to use the tools of the state to bring them to heel. A relationship between the government and private enterprise that is reduced to power relations is an unsustainable one. This is a climate that needs to change.

Indeed..  Ian Tuttle is the author of that outstanding op/ed.

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