The American Museum of Natural History in New York City features prominently in Catcher in the Rye yet Holden Caulfield never actually goes in. “Disturbed by the possibility of having to face how he has changed since his last visit” (i.e. on school trips) he thinks, “Certain things, they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone.”
I agree. So imagine my shock when visiting the famous dinosaur exhibit there recently, having to pass under a big sign that read, “David H. Koch Dinosaur Wing.” I know that wasn’t there last time I visited. Nor was there a similar sign while attending the New York City ballet, or passing by the outdoor fountain at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But they're there now.
David Koch of Koch Industries is using his immense wealth to put his name on New York City landmarks. This is someone who would probably be tackled to the ground if he visited any actual New York City neighborhoods. Many people who live here are pretty disgusted by what Koch Industries is doing to America. Turns out we’re not the only ones.
The mobile Natural History Museum has released a letter signed by “dozens of climate scientists and environmental groups calling for museums of science and natural history to ‘cut all ties’ with fossil fuel companies and philanthropists like the Koch brothers” - climate change deniers, all. Writes the New York Times,"The letter does not mention specific companies, but it does name David H. Koch, who sits on the boards of the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and has given tens of millions of dollars to those institutions."
What’s more, “Public records show that many fossil-fuel companies have made similar contributions to such organizations and scientists over the years.” There’s also “A petition drive … by environmental organizations including Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, urg[ing] the Smithsonian and the American Museum of Natural History to ‘Kick Koch off the board!’”
The trend of corporate wealth being used to procure cultural and scientific credibility is bad enough. But buying out the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution? That's perhaps even more disturbing.
Adam Liptak had an analysis in the New York Times today about a new study by a former corporate lawyer and Harvard business professor, John C. Coates IV, who found that “there has been a ‘corporate takeover of the First Amendment.’”
“Corporations have begun to displace individuals as the direct beneficiaries of the First Amendment,” Professor Coates wrote. The trend, he added, is “recent but accelerating.”
Professor Coates’s study was only partly concerned with the Supreme Court’s recent decisions amplifying the role of money in politics.
“It’s not just Citizens United,” he said in an interview, referring to the 2010 decision that allowed unlimited independent spending by corporations in elections. His study, he said, analyzed First Amendment challenges from businesses to an array of economic regulations.
The case on commercial speech, Virginia State Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, was a turning point, Professor Coates found in his study. After that ruling, the average number of First Amendment cases in the Supreme Court involving businesses started to rise to 2.2 a year from 1.5, and the number involving individuals started to fall, to 3.6 from 4.3.
More striking, the success rates for both groups increased, but far more for businesses. Individuals won 55 percent of the time, up from 41 percent. Businesses also won 55 percent of the time, up from 20 percent.
Before 1976, First Amendment challenges from corporations generally involved companies in the business of free expression, like newspapers, book publishers and film producers. More recently, companies have filed free-speech challenges to laws regulating how ordinary products may be marketed or advertised.
Professor Coates also analyzed data from federal appeals courts, finding that “businesses are growing steadily more aggressive in their use of the First Amendment.” Court dockets these days are full of free-speech challenges from pharmaceutical firms, tobacco companies, miners, meat producers and airlines.
As one commenter put it, “This twisted interpretation of corporate free-speech ‘rights’ is the most 1984-ish development I've ever seen in U.S. politics...”