The Supreme Court recently reached a decision that will affect the future of our country for years to come. A group that calls itself “Citizens United,” but which is actually a conglomeration of conservative activists, brought a suit to throw out election contribution limits and regulations. In simple terms, they sought to remove any limits on what corporations can give to politicians.
The Court ruled, by a 5-4 decision, that corporations have the same First Amendment rights to engage in political spending as individual people. Previously, a corporation that wished to support or oppose a Federal candidate had to do so using political action committee funds, which are funds that come from voluntary contributions from by employees and shareholders who wished to support the corporation’s political agenda. Such funds were subject to Federal contribution limits and other regulations. Now, however, the Citizens United decision will allow corporations to donate whatever they wish to support or oppose a particular candidate.
I usually tend to be libertarian as far as Federal regulations go, but in this case, we need to see that the system is broken, and take action to stop it. Big money already controls our government, and with this ruling, instead of putting any kind of limit on that, it opens it up to total domination by the biggest corporations.
These corporations already know that they can get major favors by spending money on lobbyists. For instance, Exxon Mobil spent $30 billion on lobbying, and miraculously they get billions in tax breaks, even as they make record profits. The health care industry spent $1 million per day on lobbying during the health care debates, to make sure no “public option” would interfere with their ability to hike rates and make billions in profits.
Now that the gloves are off as far as direct contributions to candidates, we can expect to see all kinds of windfalls for politicians who will do the bidding of the donors. And if you have any doubts about what money can do for a candidate, check out the results of elections, even right here in New Jersey. When a candidate such as a Frank Lautenberg or a Jon Corzine wants to run, and is willing to spend tens of millions of their own money, they can’t be beat. They can run continuous radio and TV ads; they can hire the best and most devious campaign specialists. They can buy off other politicians for their support. There is no such thing as “free and fair” elections when one candidate has so much more money than the other. And that’s what democracy needs to prosper, free and fair elections.
Numerous examples exist of the use of funds to influence politicians for personal gain. In 1998, a Native American tribe offered to undertake a substantial independent spending campaign on behalf of a Kansas congressman in a close reelection race if the congressman would switch his position on legislation that would allow the tribe to build a casino. In 2006, the FEC levied a $3.8 million fine against mortgage company Freddie Mac for using corporate funds to raise over $3 million for members of the House committee that had regulatory authority over it. Corporations such as these can now freely spend money on candidates that have the power to regulate, or deregulate, them directly.
The Court decision overruled a number of prior decisions that upheld the right of Congress to regulate contributions. It seems the conservative fervor that’s gripping the country has seeped into the nation’s highest court. There are many people, in both parties, that see the need for regulation; one of the famous bills calling for it is the McCain Feingold bill, which was a bipartisan effort to bring some sense into the system.
The public also realizes the need for limits. Four different polls conducted in the weeks after the Citizens United decision was announced all indicate that the court’s analysis is at odds with the public’s understanding of the role corporate money plays in politics. In a Washington Post–ABC News poll, 8 in 10 opposed the decision. In a Common Cause poll, 64 percent of voters disapproved of the decision. In a People For The American Way poll, 78 percent believed that corporations should be limited in how much they can spend to influence elections. In a Pew Research Center for the People & the Press poll, 68 percent disapproved of the decision. Both Republicans and Democrats agreed on this one. Among Republicans, 65 percent disapprove, and 76 percent of Democrats.
We need to have a constitutional amendment to try and rectify this, or we are doomed to be ruled by the big corporations. Much like the scenario of the movie Rollerball, where the corporations took control, which will be our destiny if we don’t take action.
The only solution to bring us back to a government “by the people, of the people, and for the people,” is to eliminate all contributions and lobbying. When candidates run for office, we should have several debates, all televised, and have newspapers and the Internet publish the position of each candidate. Then the public can vote based on the candidate’s views. No more smear advertising, no more need for politicians to spend 50 percent of their time on fundraising, like they do now. They can spend their time working on solutions to our problems, not on the problem of their reelection funds.
Radical? Yes, but if we don’t take radical action, then we are heading into a world dominated even more by corporations and the wealthy than we have now. If we are going to take our country back, we need to start by preventing big businesses from buying our political system. Right now, they already own most of it, and with the new Supreme Court ruling, it will complete the process. If we don’t act, our democracy is doomed. We are quickly headed to government “of the corporations, by the corporations, and for the corporations.”