Corporations given the green light to buy elections

Last night, I posted a video here by Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig about the importance of getting corporate money out of politics. At the time, I agreed with the professor that corporations had way too much influence over American politics. Since I posted it, however, things have gotten considerably worse. This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court, led by Bush appointee John Roberts, voted 5-4 to allow corporations even greater influence in politics. (You can read the actual opinion of the court here.) Here, by way of background, is a clip from the New York Times:

Overruling two important precedents about the First Amendment rights of corporations, a bitterly divided Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the government may not ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections.

The 5-to-4 decision was a vindication, the majority said, of the First Amendment’s most basic free speech principle — that the government has no business regulating political speech. The dissenters said that allowing corporate money to flood the political marketplace would corrupt democracy…

The ruling, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, No. 08-205, overruled two precedents: Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, a 1990 decision that upheld restrictions on corporate spending to support or oppose political candidates, and McConnell v. Federal Election Commission, a 2003 decision that upheld the part of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 that restricted campaign spending by corporations and unions….

So, as of right now, corporations will have the same level of control over U.S. elections that they, up till now, have exercised over other areas of American life.

Oh, speaking of which, did you see the headline today that top defense contractors spent $27 million lobbying for the Afghan surge? That’s right. They spent $27 million dollars making the case to our elected officials that a surge in Afghanistan, requiring their products, was necessary. (I don’t have the number handy, but I expect peace groups had considerably less to spend.) And, now, they’ll be have the same kind of influence over U.S. elections.

My favorite quote today was from someone on Reddit, who said, “Coming this November: attack ads by banks against Congressmen who advocate banking reform legislation — paid for by taxpayer bailout money. It’s kind of poetic, isn’t it?

And, as you might have guessed, Lawrence Lessig doesn’t seem too happy about this current turn of events. He’s advocating that people immediately get behind the Fair Elections Now Act, which would, if passed, cap personal donations to political campaigns at $100, and make public funding available for those who meet certain criteria.

And, the People for the American Way are taking it one step further. They’re suggesting that we don’t just legislate around the ruling, but amend the Constitution itself. Here’s a clip:

…There is no quick fix. The Roberts Court’s audacity must be met with bold action.

People For the American Way is launching a campaign to pass an amendment to the U.S. Constitution which would nullify the worst part of the Court’s decision by granting Congress the authority to limit corporate influence in elections. This is not something that we take lightly. But the very foundation of our democracy could depend on our ability to overturn this decision…

We support other legislative efforts in Congress to limit the impact of today’s anti-democratic decision – some of which are being talked about by our allies already. But this decision is such a drastic departure from sound democratic principles that we now stand on the precipice, and more is needed.

Congress must move quickly to protect our democratic system and the voice of the people by passing this amendment. From there, we will take our campaign to the states to get the amendment ratified by two thirds of the state legislatures. As the consequences of this decision sink in, more and more Americans will be justifiably outraged. We can make this national movement to amend the Constitution a success — with your help…

If you want to be involved, just click that last link and enter your email address.

And, here, in conclusion, are a few quotes that I found on the subject.

Senator Chuck Schumer: “The Supreme Court has just predicted the winners of the next November election. It won’t be Republicans. It won’t be Democrats. It will be Corporate America.”

Barack Obama: “With its ruling today, the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics. It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans… That’s why I am instructing my Administration to get to work immediately with Congress on this issue. We are going to talk with bipartisan Congressional leaders to develop a forceful response to this decision.”

And this, my friends, is the Bush legacy. This is what happens when criminally-uninformed voters put a far-right ideologue/puppet into the Oval Office. It’s not enough that we have to invest years, undoing all the shit he’s personally responsible for, but, then, on top of it, we have to suffer through the ridiculous decisions of his Supreme Court. And nothing is more ridiculous than this notion that corporations, in the eyes of the law, are people, entitled to the same rights as you and me.

Until a corporation can go to prison for breaking the law, in my opinion, it shouldn’t be given any of the privileges of personhood.

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  1. Posted January 22, 2010 at 12:20 am | Permalink

    President Eisenhower gave the warning when he left office.

  2. roots
    Posted January 22, 2010 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    So sad…

  3. kingpin
    Posted January 22, 2010 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    I heard that the city council is running against Verizon Wireless in the next election. I’m voting Verizon…you should hear their special campaign ringtones! They’re hilarious!

  4. Edward
    Posted January 22, 2010 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    I was reading yesterday that Canada has a strict no lobbying rule. And they don’t allow elected officials to serve in corporations until 3 years after they leave office, or something like that. America should be leading the world in efforts to strengthen democracy through such measures. Instead, we fight them. It’s a damned shame.

  5. Kim
    Posted January 22, 2010 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    Another article, in case people are interested.

    I like it because it has photos of the 5: Roberts, Kennedy, Alito, Scalia and Thomas.

    Sons of bitches.

    Just wait, soon it’ll be your right to an abortion.

  6. Meta
    Posted January 22, 2010 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Another perspective:

  7. The Kingpin
    Posted January 22, 2010 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Yeah…the one good thing about this ruling, is that hopefully, it will spur some voters who were on the fence about voting for smaller parties because they didn’t want to “throw their vote away”, to take the plunge and vote for them. Maybe we can start to dent the forcefield around the two party system that has been fouling things up for so long.

  8. Posted January 22, 2010 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    I don’t know, “granting Congress the authority to limit corporate influence in elections” strikes me as just a bandaid. The real problem (which probably does require a constitutional amendment, thanks to SCOTUS rulings for more than 100 years) is the legal treatment of a corporation as a person.

  9. Meta
    Posted January 22, 2010 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    From Think Progress today:

    U.S. Government For Sale
    Yesterday, in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court held that “the constitutional guarantee of free speech means that corporations can spend unlimited sums to help elect favored candidates or defeat those they oppose.” The activist 5-4 decision struck down a 63-year-old ban that ensured corporations may not use their enormous profits to support or oppose candidates. The ruling “declared unconstitutional a large portion of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act passed in 2002.” Ian Millhiser of the Center for American Progress Action Fund observed, “Today’s decision does far more than simply provide Fortune 500 companies with a massive megaphone to blast their political views to the masses; it also empowers them to drown out any voices that disagree with them.” Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL), who is already pushing legislation to rectify the Court’s decision, warned, “The law itself will be bought and sold. It would be political bribery on the largest scale imaginable.” “The Supreme Court has thrust politics back to the robber-baron era of the 19th century,” the New York Times writes today.

    THE BACKGROUND OF THE CASE: The case grew from attempts by the conservative organization Citizens United to promote its anti-Hillary Clinton film, “Hillary: The Movie,” in 2008, which “takes viewers on a savaging journey through Clinton’s scandals.” Because the movie was partially financed with corporate funds, “it fell under restrictions in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002,” also known as The McCain-Feingold Act. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) therefore heavily restricted Citizens United’s ability to advertise the film. A March 2009 ruling upheld the FEC’s decision, writing that the film was “susceptible of no other interpretation than to inform the electorate that Senator Clinton is unfit for office, that the United States would be a dangerous place in a President Hillary Clinton world, and that viewers should vote against her.” The film “was the brainchild of Citizens United President David N. Bossie, a former congressional aid” and longtime Clinton critic. According to Nick Nyhart, president of Public Campaign, “The movie was created with the idea of establishing a vehicle to chip away at the decision. … It was part of a very clear strategy to undo McCain-Feingold.”

    A RIGHT-WING ACTIVIST COURT: The Washington Post writes that the Court’s majority made “a mockery of some justices’ pretensions to judicial restraint.” Although Chief Justice John Roberts represented himself as an impartial “umpire” during his 2005 confirmation hearings — acknowledging that “it is a jolt to the legal system when you overrule a precedent on the bench” — Roberts “has shown himself more willing than his mentor and predecessor, William H. Rehnquist, to question the court’s past decisions.” During his short tenure thus far, Roberts’ “record is not that of a humble moderate but, rather, that of a doctrinaire conservative.” Likewise, Samuel Alito’s replacement of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has tipped the court’s balance from supportive of congressional efforts to reduce the influence of special interests to suspicious of how the restrictions curtail free speech. Since Roberts and Alito joined its ranks, the Court ignored longstanding precedents protecting women against paycheck discrimination and older workers against age discrimination. The Court overruled a very recent precedent protecting women’s reproductive freedom, and Roberts even had the audacity to claim that the Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision forbids school boards from desegregating public schools. In his dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote, “At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people. … While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.”

    FURTHER EMPOWERING BIG BUSINESS: In 2008, “the Obama and McCain campaigns combined to spend just over $1.1 billion, an enormous, record-breaking sum at the time,” but a small fraction of what corporations have available. “With hundreds of billions of dollars of corporate profits at stake every time Congress begins a session,” wrote Millhiser, “wealthy corporations would be foolish not to spend tens of billions of dollars every election cycle to make sure that their interests are protected. No one, including the candidates themselves, have the ability to compete with such giant expenditures.” David Kirkpatrick wrote in the New York Times that the Court “has handed a new weapon to lobbyists. If you vote wrong, a lobbyist can now tell any elected official that my company, labor union or interest group will spend unlimited sums explicitly advertising against your re-election.” “The good news,” wrote Millhiser, “is that lawmakers are already considering ways to mitigate the damage caused by Citizens United, and a number of options exist, such as requiring additional disclosures by corporations engaged in electioneering, empowering shareholders to demand that their investment not be spent to advance ca ndidates they disapprove of, or possibly even requiring shareholders to approve a corporation’s decision to influence an election before the company may do so.” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) have been “working for months to draft legislation in response to the anticipated decision.” Potential fixes include banning political advertising by corporations that hire lobbyists, receive government money, or collect most of their revenue abroad. “Another would be to tighten rules against coordination between campaigns and outside groups so that, for example, they could not hire the same advertising firms or consultants. A third would be to require shareholder approval of political expenditures, or even to force chief executives to appear as sponsors of commercials their companies pay for.”

  10. Me
    Posted January 23, 2010 at 2:22 am | Permalink

    Kim, I can’t wait til they try to take away my right to an abortion. They will have a fight on their hands.
    Wait a minute, maybe I can just incorporate my g/f’s uterus and reinstate my rights.
    Uterus, inc.

  11. Meta
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    Lessig now thinks that we need a Constitutional amendment. Here’s a letter that I just received:

    Last week’s decision in Citizens United was an important moment in the history of our democracy. Much more important, however, is how we respond.

    First — as I wrote to you last week — we need Congress to pass the Fair Elections Now Act. No other reform, including reforms that try effectively to reverse Citizens United, could be as important right now.

    But after much reflection, I now believe that this first step is not enough. We cannot build a movement to secure fundamental reform with the constant fear that an activist Supreme Court will strike that reform down. Instead, we must establish clearly and without question the power in Congress to preserve its own institutional independence.

    And we can only do that by effecting a change to our founding document — an amendment to the Constitution.

    I know this is a bold step, but bold action is what this threat to our democracy demands. If you agree with me that we must begin this process to protect our democracy, please sign our petition and spread the word to everyone you know:

    I’ve written a longer essay explaining my decision, which you can read on our website. Right now, though, as our nation’s leaders and citizens prepare to hear tonight’s State of the Union address, I wanted to share my thoughts with those of you who have supported this movement so far.

    Even before last week’s decision, the vast majority of Americans did not believe that their government is, as our Framers intended, “dependent upon the People.” The vast majority believes that the government is dependent upon money — that money buys results in Congress.

    This is corruption. And this corruption makes it harder for both Reagan Republicans and Progressive Democrats to achieve the substantive ends that they seek. Under conservative administrations in the last 30 years, Reagan Republicans have not seen the government shrink or the tax code simplified — because Congress has no interest in smaller government or simpler taxes, as both would make it harder to raise campaign funds. And for the past year, despite the election of Barack Obama with a super-majority Democratic Congress, Progressive Democrats have watched with disgust as every substantive reform of this administration has been stymied by special interests expert in preserving the status quo.

    Our single common purpose must be to end this corruption. No side in this debate has the right to demand rules that benefit them against the other. But all sides need to recognize that this corruption is destroying American democracy. We need a system that the people trust — that gives the people a reason to participate, and convinces them that their participation is rewarded by the substantive policies that they have pursued.

    Join my call for a Constitutional amendment:

    Passing an amendment won’t, of course, be easy. In the coming weeks, we’ll tell you much more about how the amendment process works and what this amendment will say, and we’ll give everyone a chance to get involved and make their voice heard.

    But right now, we simply need you to join in the call — say loudly and clearly that we need a democracy we can believe in, and we’re willing to act to make it happen.

    Never in our lifetime has our democracy faced a threat like this. Such a moment calls for more than mere band-aids — it calls for fundamental reform.

    Join us.

    — Lawrence Lessig

  12. Alice
    Posted April 5, 2010 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    I didn’t know where to put this, but I was just reading that in 2008 Exxon Mobil’s income tax bill was $36 billion, on $310 billion in sales. They, however, have not paid a dime.

  13. Meta
    Posted August 23, 2010 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    Obama comments on the Citizens United case and the ramifications we’re seeing now.!

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