By Miranda Pennoyer • April 14, 2010•Writers in Residence
It’s time once again for “Ask Miranda Pennoyer,” the column that answers your questions about life, liberty, and the pursuit of billable hours. This columnist is one the few to be recognized by members of the ABBA as both a Super Trouper and a Dancing Queen.
So now, it’s time to get to the name of the game: questions from our loyal readers. Our first is an issue that touches all legal professionals, but only in appropriate places.
Q. Last week, an interviewer asked me how I feel about pro bono work. My question is, can anyone be anti-bono?
A. This position was common in the 1990’s, especially in law firms whose radios were perpetually tuned to alternative stations. The most common causes of anti-Bono sentiments were “With or Without You” and “Sweetest Thing.”
Q. Did everyone feel this way?
A. No. Many members of the legal community approved of the charity work the U2 singer did, especially when his efforts resulted in networking and fundraising events with free alcohol, which led to greater spending on worthy causes.
Q. Speaking of spending, can you explain the holding of Citizens United?
A. Of course we can. The First Amendment allows it.
Q. But will you?
A. We don’t know. It’s concurrence and dissent soup—that’s a lot to go through.
Q. Please, voulez-vous explain it?
A. Okay, but only because you used another song title. This case is about whether the federal government can limit corporate expenditures on electioneering communications through section 441 b of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA).
Q. And can they?
A. According to the opinion, written by Justice Kennedy, no.
Q. But couldn’t that lead to corruption in the election process—politics being controlled by the country’s most powerful companies?
A. Apparently not. According to the Court, free speech is essential to the democratic process, regardless of whether it comes from a person or a corporation. Therefore, any law chilling political speech violates the First Amendment.
Q. “Chilling political speech?” Is that one that President Nixon would have delivered?
A. You would think.
Q. So now what? Can corporations spend however much money they want on any type of political message? Can they say that a certain Senate candidate is actually Rasputin?
A. Yes, they can. But per section 311 of the BCRA, the corporation has to add a disclaimer that says who is responsible for the ad’s content, and that the candidate didn’t authorize it.
Q. Whew. That makes it okay. Now the average voter won’t be misled.
A. Yes, that 4-second disclaimer will solve everything. BCRA section 201 also helps by requiring a person who spends more than $10,000 to disclose, among other things, the names of donors. There will still be total transparency.
Q. What a relief! Hey—did Justice Kennedy really compare Citizen United’s “Hillary: The Movie” to the classic “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington?”
A. Yes, he really did.
Q. Finally, did you know that the letters in “Citizens United” can be rearranged to say “seize nut; indict”?
A. Also, “use zinc tint? Die!”
Q. One more thing: why didn’t you pick on Sonny Bono in this column?
A. We figured he already has had his fair Cher of mockery, so we cut him a break.
Q. Ouch. Will everyone think that joke is bad?
A. Nope. Just you.
GOT A QUESTION FOR MIRANDA PENNOYER?
Honey I’m still free, take a chance on me.