Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Big Day for Corporatocracy

The Supreme Court is about to decide whether corporations have the same rights as individual citizens. This is something worth paying close attention to, because the ramifications are enormous. The Bill Moyers Journal did a great job of presenting both sides of the argument last week. I urge you to watch the whole thing or read the transcript (or both).

The case in question, which could overturn a hundred years of campaign finance reform, is Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission. An editorial in the LA Times written by Doug Kendall, founder and president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, a think tank and public interest law firm in Washington, DC, explains:
The case involves a film, "Hillary: The Movie," which sharply attacks Hillary Rodham Clinton and her presidential candidacy. It was produced by Citizens United, a conservative nonprofit advocacy group, to coincide with the 2008 presidential primary season. The Federal Election Commission saw the movie as no different from a standard-issue attack ad -- just longer -- and considered it subject to restrictions imposed under the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance law as an "electioneering communication."

Citizens United began as a seemingly inconsequential case about the extent of the FEC's power to regulate such communications, but that was transformed at oral argument in March into a much bigger deal. Citizens United pressed for a sweeping rejection of congressional authority to regulate campaign spending by corporations, and the court's conservative justices were plainly sympathetic to this broad argument [emphasis added].
Kendall goes on to explain that the essential question of the case is whether a corporation has or should have the same rights as an individual. How could you possibly have a healthy democracy if corporations, with their enormous resources, aren't restricted in how they participate in the political process? Does it really make sense to grant corporations the same rights as citizens?

So are we going to let them vote too?

That's where you see the absurdity of the notion of granting corporations the same rights as citizens. Are we going to start handing CEOs special corporate ballots? They probably wouldn't be interested in that, because, of course, one puny little vote wouldn't be enough.

Kendall continues:
In his historic run to the presidency, Barack Obama broke every political fundraising record, raising nearly $750 million from more than a million contributors in 2007 and 2008. Now consider a corporation such as Exxon Mobil. During 2008 alone, Exxon generated profits of $45 billion. With a diversion of even 2% of these profits to the political process, Exxon could have far outspent the Obama campaign and fundamentally changed the dynamic of the 2008 election....

The line between corporations and individuals when it comes to constitutional protections is as old as the United States. The framers wrote the Constitution to protect citizens and the people and never once used the word "corporations."

Early Supreme Court rulings embraced this distinction, holding that the legal rights of a corporation derive from its corporate charter, not the Constitution.
We've been heading down two contradictory roads for some time now. According to Kendall, one road leads to democratic progress, "moving toward broader enfranchisement and more meaningful political participation for individual Americans." The other is the road to greater and greater corporate power and influence. At some point--and this may be it--we will be pulled much more in one direction than the other. There's a tremendous lot at stake.

Our campaign finance laws are puny in the face of the enormous power the corporations wield, addressing only some abuses of corporate power. They need to be strengthened, not overturned. We had all better hope that the Supreme Court does the right thing.

Otherwise that "tap, tap, tap" you hear will be yet another nail being driven into the coffin of democracy.

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