With its ruling in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the Supreme Court has granted corporations even further unfettered access to destroy the fundamental Constitutional protections against corporate control of government. The Chamber of Commerce and ExxonMobil must be thrilled.
The title of David Korten’s excellent 2001 book about the rise of corporate control in America popped into my head as I read the depressing news about the Supreme Court’s gift to corporate America (as if they need another handout from U.S. taxpayers).
Corporations, Wall Street and other special interests can now spend as much as they want on commercials and literature to call for the victory or defeat of federal political candidates. Unlike previously acceptable “issue ads,” candidates can now be mentioned by name, as long as there’s no coordination with the candidates or campaigns.
The decision, a 5-4 vote, overturned a 20-year-old ruling barring such ads.
Fossil fuel interests, rejoice. Working American families, not so much. Efforts to create good-paying green jobs, transition to a clean energy future and ambitiously address global warming just got a lot harder.
Consider the power corporations already have over our democracy. For instance, the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate Industries spent over $132 million on political contributions to presidential candidates in the 2008 election. THat was one industry sector, one race, $132 million. Sure, it was a presidential race, so the stakes were high. But consider that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $123 million lobbying the federal government in 2009, with no presidential race in sight. That was before the Chamber pledged to wage its "most aggressive" election fight ever in 2010, and put out the call to Big Business to pony up $100 million to do it. The Chamber already spends upwards of $300,000 per day on lobbying.
How many individuals could match that kind of spending power? And now that the limits to this largesse have been removed, how will We The People ever compete with corporations to choose our leaders?
Thankfully, President Barack Obama seems to understand the danger of this ruling to our participatory democracy:
“With its ruling today, the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics. It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans. This ruling gives the special interests and their lobbyists even more power in Washington — while undermining the influence of average Americans who make small contributions to support their preferred candidates. That's why I am instructing my Administration to get to work immediately with Congress on this issue. We are going to talk with bipartisan Congressional leaders to develop a forceful response to this decision. The public interest requires nothing less.”
Whether the Obama Administration can do anything to stop this assault on democracy remains to be seen. But the immediate consequences were spelled out clearly by Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY):
“This activist and far reaching decision is even worse than we had feared. This opens the floodgates and allows special interest money to overflow our elections and undermine our democracy. The bottom line is, the Supreme Court has just predetermined the winners of next November’s election. It won’t be the Republican or the Democrats and it won’t be the American people; it will be Corporate America.”
On the flip side of the coin, look at the elation of Republican corporate lapdogs like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY):
“For too long, some in this country have been deprived of full participation in the political process. With today’s monumental decision, the Supreme Court took an important step in the direction of restoring the First Amendment rights of these groups by ruling that the Constitution protects their right to express themselves about political candidates and issues up until Election Day. By previously denying this right, the government was picking winners and losers. Our democracy depends upon free speech, not just for some but for all.”
“First Amendment rights?” McConnell lacks even a basic understanding of corporate personhood, which, contrary to popular belief, was never decided by the Supreme Court, as Thom Hartmann explains brilliantly in his must-read book Unequal Protection. While the solutions described in Hartmann’s book must be rapidly embraced and deployed, now more than ever, the Supreme Court’s decision this week makes that work harder.
The campaign spending floodgates aren’t just open, they’ve been torn out entirely. Corporations, Wall Street and other special interests can now dump millions, even billions, into the campaign coffers of whomever will do their bidding. There is already an ample supply of willing corporate cronies in Congress. Now there will be nothing but.
As Keith Olbermann put it yesterday in his segment “U.S. government for sale”:
Right now, you can prostitute all of the politicians some of the time, and prostitute some of the politicians all the time, but you cannot prostitute all the politicians all the time. Thanks to Chief Justice Roberts this will change. Unless this mortal blow is somehow undone, within ten years, every politician in this country will be a prostitute.
This is a Supreme Court-sanctioned murder of what little actual Democracy is left in this Democracy. It is government of the people by the corporations for the corporations. It is the Dark Ages. It is our Dred Scott. I would suggest a revolution but a revolution against the corporations? The corporations that make all the guns and the bullets? Maybe it won't be this bad. Maybe the corporations legally defined as human beings, but without the pesky occasional human attributes of conscience and compassion maybe when handed the only keys to the electoral machine, they will simply not re-design America in their own corporate image. But let me leave you with this final question: After today who's going to stop them?
That question will not be answered in a single day, or even a year, but its answer must somehow be 'We The People.' Corporations have an even greater advantage now spending wise, but we still have the truth on our side. Let’s get to work.