Thursday, January 21, 2010

How things are now changed for the worse - really bad news

Earlier today I posted about the Supreme Court decision that removed ALL restrictions governing corporate donations to candidates for federal office. This decision easily has the biggest implications for the future of America since Bush v. Gore and maybe going back even farther. I can't overstate how much this decision, driven by the clearly hypocritical "non-activist" conservative Justices who have just invalidated nearly a century of laws restricting corporations from undue influence in our government, will impact our democratic system.

Let's look at a practical example of what this decision means.

Let's say that there is a river near my home into which several companies are dumping toxic chemicals. I've complained to the authorities but no one has done anything. So, I decide to run for Congress to do something about the problem. A very American thing to do.

To campaign, I need money, so I look for donations. My neighbors and many people in the town would like to support me. These people (actual human beings) are limited by federal law in what they can contribute to my campaign. That would be $2300 each. I am very lucky and raise $1,000,000 for my campaign. Go me!

When word gets out about my campaign, however, the people running the companies which are dumping toxic chemicals into the river decide they don't want me to win. Well, la dee dah, these people are also limited when donating money to federal campaigns! So it's an even playing field.

Except, as of today, it isn't.

For these people can tap the vast wealth of their corporations to campaign against me. And corporations now have no limits. These corporations can spend ANY amount of money running ads or supporting other candidates. They could spend $100 million if they wanted and, depending on the value of dumping their chemicals, it might be worth that much to them.

$1 million versus $100 million. How do you think I'd do in the election?

The Court ruled on the basis of free speech. But Corporations aren't people. They're legal constructs that have vast resources mere people don't have. They also have interests that are very often contrary to the people that live in their communities. Corporations don't deserve the same free speech rights as actual people.

This decision makes corporate speech supreme. Corporate speech is now worth more than the speech of mere human beings by many, many times.

Not surprisingly, while some Republicans, like McCain and Snowe, have criticized the decision, many more Republicans are showing their contempt for the individual voter, we the people, and hailing this as a victory for free speech.

It's a victory for moneyed speech, actually. It's anti-democratic, it's wrong and if unchecked, will destroy the ability of the people to make our voices heard. This is a victory of the corporation over us, the mere people of the United States of America.

Everyone who values freedom and democracy should be outraged.


Joseph said...

And unions...?

Ipecac said...

Are unions people? Why would you think I'd be in favor of any legal entity having more of a voice than actual people?

Ipecac said...

For someone who is concerned about not being represented in Washington, I would think you would be outraged that corporations can now effectively elect anyone they want while drowning out your voice. I would think all Tea Party people would be outraged. Isn't that the whole point of the movement? Power to the people?

Eric Haas said...

Ipecac, you seem a little confused. The decision in Citizens United vs FEC overturned limits on how much can be spent on political speech, not limits on campaign contributions; those are still in place.

Ipecac said...

I understand that, but as a practical matter, it doesn't make that much of a difference as corporations (and unions) can run their own ads for or against specific candidates.

They're limited to how much they can contribute directly to those candidates, but not limited in how much they can spend on their own ads.

Dennis said...

How different is this than the situation that existed before McCain/Feingold? I really don't know.

Eric Haas said...

There are several states that have no such limits on campaign contributions, they don’t seem to be any less democratic then other states, and Australia has no such limits, and Australian democracy seems to be doing just as well as any other democracy.

Ipecac said...

Australia doesn't have the same political culture we do. I'm not confident that's an apt comparison.

As far as individual states go, are you talking about local and state elections? I'd be interested to see studies detailing corporate ads in those states.

Individuals have the right of free speech under the Constitution. Every person who works in a corporation (or union) has the right of free political speech, including the CEO, the Board, and all the Officers. Why does the corporation itself, which can't vote, also deserve free political speech? Free commercial speech, sure, but I don't think it should rise to the same level of rights as actual citizens because it is not operating on a level playing field. What good can come of this?

Eric Haas said...

How do you distinguish between commercial speech and non-commercial speech?

If corporations don’t have the same free speech rights as individuals, is it okay to ban books published by corporations? How about movies? If not, where do you draw the line?

If a group of friends get together and decide to make a political documentary, they have the right to do so. Should they suddenly lose that right just because they decide to incorporate?

Ipecac said...

Good question. It's been a long time since I studied Constitutional law but there are well-established legal standards distinguishing commercial from political speech. The courts have dealt with the distinction over decades through a good amount of case law.

In any event, clearly some political speech is allowed by corporations. For example, Michael Moore's films certainly espouse a political agenda and they're produced by corporations. The question in this case was very narrow but the Court decided instead to overrule two previous cases and throw out decades of previous campaign reform laws.

I think this is a pretty good summation:

Eric Haas said...

You said, “Individuals have the right of free speech under the Constitution.” Actually, the First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech…”. It makes no distinction between individuals and groups.

Ipecac said...

But corporations aren't "groups". They're government-created legal entities with special privileges whose primary purpose is profit.

There are all kinds of restrictions on free speech for both individuals and corporations. It's not an absolute right. The courts from the 1970's on recognized that there was a significant government interest in preventing corruption or its appearance. Apparently, that's no longer a concern.