"If Congress attempts to inhibit corporate political speech while treating unions with kid gloves, that's not reform. It's just another special-interest payback," writes the general counsel of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Steven Law, in the Wall Street Journal.
Fair enough. Exactly right, even. But some of Mr. Law's proposals to restrict union political involvement go way too far in the direction of unrestricted government power. How about this one: "Prohibit unions that are under the influence of organized crime—as determined by the Department of Labor's inspector general—from ingratiating themselves with politicians by spending money on elections." The whole point of the Supreme Court decision is that not even the elected members of Congress have the power to take away someone's First Amendment right to free speech. The "Department of Labor's inspector general" was elected by no one and certainly shouldn't have that power. The inspector general's post isn't even subject to Congressional confirmation. Not to mention that under our Constitution, convicting people of crimes and punishing them for them is a matter for the judicial branch, not the executive branch (with the exception of prosecutors, FBI agents, and the like, whose job is more to start the process or conclude it than to serve as judge).
How quickly will the left respond with a proposal to give the Securities and Exchange Commission's inspector general the power to take away the First Amendment rights of corporations that violate SEC regulations, or the Environmental Protection Agency's inspector general the power to take away the First Amendment rights of corporate polluters, or the Food and Drug Administration's inspector general the power to take away the First Amendment rights of food companies that violate the rules about health claims on packaging? Already Senator Schumer wants to take away the First Amendment rights of companies that took TARP money, even though some of them apparently were forced to accept the funds.
Organized crime is a serious matter, as is organized crime's involvement with organized labor. But there are already laws against crime and punishment for criminals. It's not at all clear that it'd be an improvement to place the First Amendment rights of unions into jeopardy as part of the equation. The Chamber of Commerce was set up to lobby for the interests of businesses, not to defend the Constitution, so you can't fault them too much. But members of Congress swear an oath to the Constitution, and if they go too far down the road suggested by Mr. Law, they risk violating it.