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Campaign Finance Outrage: Democracy for the Highest Bidder

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Yesterday's Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance law will give a huge boost to the special interests that already exercise a stranglehold on our political system, allowing them to tighten their grip and further prevent any meaningful change. Dismissing the practice of the last century and overturning two major precedents, the Court ruled 5-4 that corporations have the same First Amendment rights as persons, and that those rights include spending corporate funds to influence elections.

In the past, corporations have been permitted to spend their funds to run "issue" ads in relation to campaigns but those ads could not explicitly support or oppose individual candidates. Yesterday's ruling threw that precedent out the window. Corporations can now directly intervene in campaigns with candidate-specific ads. The only requirement remaining is that they be "independent expenditures," not coordinated with a campaign. But that is a requirement more of form than substance. In the closing days of an election campaign, the ad buys of a candidate are easily available, and even without any direct coordination, independent spending can support or complement what the candidate is doing.

The logical outcome of this decision is that there will be a new torrent of money into the electoral process. Corporations are now free to directly support candidates who support their interests, and oppose those who do not. Big banks can now target seats on the banking committees, insurance companies those on committees dealing with health care issues, and defense contractors the armed services committees.

Last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, commercial banks spent 37 million dollars on Washington lobbyists to intercede in the democratic process, swaying lawmakers and protecting their narrow interests of bank bailouts and million dollar bonuses. Now, they can spend millions more on elections, targeting lawmakers who don't toe their line. Poor and working Americans will be further marginalized in their nation's capital.

Justice John Paul Stevens (joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor) concluded his strong dissent by saying:

At bottom, the Court's opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.

Indeed. At a time when financial reform is at the forefront of people's concerns, giving big banks and corporations a green light to even further influence our political process is an outrage and an assault to democracy.

portrait-jim-wallisJim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street -- A Moral Compass for the New Economy, CEO of Sojourners and blogs at www.godspolitics.com.

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