One of the more bizarre conversations that I have ever had was with Texas oil baron, H.L. Hunt, in 1960. I met him, of all odd places, at the General Exhibits Building at the Texas State Fair in Dallas. I was a college sophomore and Hunt, one of the world's wealthiest men, was directing a small staff who were putting up an exhibit of his canned vegetables and a display of his book Alpaca.
Surprisingly, or perhaps not so, the only people at the exhibit were Hunt and his employees. I walked up to the stand and picked up a flyer. Hunt came over, shook hands, and asked if I had read his book, which I had not.
Hunt, an aged and courtly, white-haired man who was dressed in a white shirt with rolled up sleeves and baggy suit-pants held by suspenders. Much like any other author, he quietly described his book, which he said told of a talented young man who helped transform society with the aid of a new voting law and some sharp political restrictions. Young people got one vote and older people got two. Most important, people who had a great amount of money got a proportionate number of more votes -- many more votes.
I listened politely, asked a couple of questions, thanked Mr. Hunt and then moved on. Being young and poor and still somewhat of an idealist about public governance, I was not drawn to the billionaire's plan.
Now comes the Supreme Court's decision that permits corporations to make unlimited, direct political contributions -- no more hiding behind fictional organizations such as independent campaign committees and political actions committees. Companies can just give the money out of their corporate treasury and give as much as it takes to get whatever regulation or law they want.
My first thought on learning of the Court's decision was of H.L. Hunt and that long ago conversation. His utopian vision has effectively become America's reality.
The Court's decision not only gives corporations "speech" through their contributions but also a megaphone for that speech that few individuals can match. Who of us can afford a $1 million dollar television or radio buy or $120,000 for a one-page ad in the New York Times or even the modest rates of even the smaller media?
And when it comes to election, let us not be deceived about the power of the Internet. It is fractionalized, far less than the television and radio networks and billboards, which can reach millions of people daily. It is no match for the deep pockets of corporations. Rupert Murdock and Goldman Sachs have more "speech" than you, me, or even most Members of Congress do.
Strangely, I am delighted with the Court's decision, not because I agree, which I strongly don't, but because it is so blatantly anti-democratic. It may finally make Americans mad enough that they won't take it any more. Hopefully, they will demand that Congress and the states amend the Constitution so Congress can set enforceable limits on campaign financing.
I doubt that generating a new political reform movement was the Court's intention, but they made clear that they would reject any reasonable campaign finance laws that are not explicitly authorized by the Constitution.
For now, the banks, oil industry, military-industrial complex, and dozens of other special interests have no need to hide their control of our elections.
Also, while foreign citizens are still prohibited from putting monies into our elections, foreign corporations will be able to establish a domestic subsidiary corporation and gain all the benefits of the Court's decision. Since foreign governments own many of these parent corporations, as with China, or control those headquartered in their nation, as with Japan, we are sure to have foreign governments directly participating in our domestic elections, starting this year. No other nation would permit such foreign meddling.
Although the big business community is jubilant about the new political power they were just handed, they will eventually regret this decision because it provides a great incentive for workers to unionize. In today's transaction politics, working peoples' $10 and $50 campaign contributions are meaningless if done as individuals. But brought together by a union and focused by its political staffs, those contributions can be decisive.
The health care debate and financial bailout is a harbinger. The unions, though small in size today, had the political muscle to get a special deal for union workers. And is obvious, Wall Street's contributions got it anything it wanted.
If workers want to participate in the auctioning of public laws and policies, more of them will need to band together and that is one of the advantages that a union offers. Think of it as a balance of power equation where the more workers that join unions the more real political power the workers have.
Interestingly, pushing for the adoption of a campaign-finance constitutional amendment can also become one of the Tea Partyers' principal recruiting tools.
The idea also offers a means for President Obama, who raised more than $1 billion of private monies to finance his 2008 campaign, to establish himself as a political reformer -- that is, if he is truly willing to transform his rhetoric on this into law.
In the meantime, let's not forget H.L. Hunt and his advocacy of more votes for the rich -- a dream that five of our nine Supreme Court Justices just made true.