On Thursday the long-delayed Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission yanked open the floodgates to corporate money in politics.
In a shocking burst of judicial activism, the Court decided that corporations should be treated like "people" in campaigns and be allowed to spend the massive amounts of money they accumulate on direct attack ads for or against Members of Congress.
The corrupting influence of the huge amounts of corporate money on our elections process has been long established by the courts and in our laws.
However, this past September, in a rehearing of a case involving a corporate-funded hour-long attack ad on then-presidential candidate Hilary Clinton, the Supreme Court called into question the constitutionality of banning corporate expenditures to influence federal elections. The ban, enacted in 1947, has been an important means of limiting corporate money in our political system.
The court's opinion not only turns back the clock on over 60 years of precedent, but also endows corporations - artificial entities created by people for economic activity - with the same right to influence campaigns as you and I.
A corporation is not, nor has it ever been, a person with voting rights. Corporations cannot get married, they cannot die, and a corporation is not a part of "We the People." The very idea that they can now channel their immense wealth to advocate directly for or against a federal candidate is abhorrent.
To put this in perspective, total spending on federal elections in 2008 was more than $3 billion from political parties, outside groups, candidates, and political action committees (PACs).
While that is a lot of money, imagine how much additional influence could be wielded by a Goldman Sachs, or an Exxon, pouring money from its corporate treasury directly into ads supporting or opposing candidates for the U.S. House or Senate. During the 2008 election cycle, Fortune 100 companies gathered profits in excess of $605 billion. Exxon Corp. alone made $1,300 per second in profit, (or over $45 billion) in 2008.
We must fix this egregious overreach by the courts, before we see the landscape of elections financing washed away in a flash flood of money. There are several viable ways to do this, including tightening up elections coordination rules, creating a shareholder accountability act that would put a leash on the corporate spending, and the Fair Elections Now Act.
The Fair Elections bill, which already has 126 cosponsors in the house, would create a voluntary system of campaign finance in which candidates could accept a mix of small donations of up to $100, and matching public funds. Similar systems have worked well in state elections in Maine, Arizona, and Connecticut.
Regardless of which solution is used, a legislative fix is needed to halt the flood of money from special interests before it is too late. The alternative is an undemocratic system in which the voices of corporate "persons," will be able to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens.
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