The CEO of Time Warner cable says that the threat Donald Trump poses to First Amendment rights is way overblown — but that the threat Democrats pose to free speech is real and terrifying.
Jeff Bewkes, who is also, technically, the head of CNN by virtue of Time Warner’s ownership umbrella, told a Business Insider breakfast on Tuesday that Hillary Clinton and other left-leaning politicians have focused on “getting money out of politics,” but don’t realize what that means for corporations and individuals who use campaign spending to influence policy.
“I think the threat to the First Amendment came more from the Democratic side,” said Bewkes, suggesting that Democrats might prefer to hear from only specific voices on the political spectrum and use campaign finance reform as a way to shut out opponents.
He also said that the concept of “campaign finance reform” is a thin, yet popular, guise for instituting stricter controls on corporate speech. “I think they viewed it charitably as something cleaning up money in politics,” he told the audience.
He went on to explain that the Democratic platform includes overturning the Citizens United ruling, which opened the door to the creation of SuperPACs that can take money from corporate donors. They “had a campaign plank to change the First Amendment, and they were doing it in the guise of campaign finance reform,” he noted.
Before Citizens United, which stemmed from a government attempt to silence a conservative non-profit’s anti-Hillary Clinton film, corporate entities were not considered to have speech rights under the First Amendment. The ruling allowed for corporate spending on political efforts and called into question FEC spending caps on individual and group political donations.
Time Warner Cable’s SuperPAC raised and spent around a half a million dollars in the 2016 election cycle. The PAC gives to both sides of the political spectrum, but does slightly favor Republicans.
In the 2016 election, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump raised money from SuperPACs, with Hillary Clinton — the candidate who campaigned on overturning the Citizens United ruling — edging out her Republican opponent for the most contributions. At one point, the Clinton-supporting Priorities USA SuperPAC had more than $41 million in cash on hand.