In one of the worst decisions by the United States Supreme Court in decades, they ruled this morning in favor of Citizen’s United, a right-wing group who sought to distribute an anti-Hillary Clinton film during the 2008 election season. But the court’s narrowly decided 5-4 ruling went much farther than the issues raised by this case. In finding for Citizen’s United, they also ruled that corporations should be free from limits on political spending that have been in effect for more than 60 years.
The consequences of this ruling are monstrous, both in terms of its broad sweep and its destructive impact. The multinational mega-corps that already wield so much power over politics via pseudo-independent, AstroTurf offshoots, will now be able to directly finance overtly political endeavors. While they still cannot contribute to a candidates general fund or PAC, they will be able to throw millions at friendly legislators independently to ensure passage of pet projects. They will be able to threaten legislators with massive negative campaigns should they fail to be cooperative. The only limits now are their balance sheets and the sky. And the disparity between what these multi-billion dollar businesses can raise and spend, and what citizens can do in response, is wider than the Grand Canyon.
In short, our representatives will become wholly owned subsidiaries of wealthy business magnates (even more than currently). They will pursue interests that benefit their new masters rather than the public interest. And many of these masters will be foreigners whose parent entities reside in Germany or Dubai or China. Even when the companies are U.S. based they may still have prominent shareholders and members of their boards from offshore. What ever happened to the conservative cries of “Country First” or the value of sovereignty?
This ruling is an assault on democracy. It makes a mockery of free speech as it gives preference to speakers who are rich. And it elevates the role of the media in partisan politics. First of all, media companies will see a huge windfall in revenue from all the new advertising on the part of self-serving corporations. Then, as corporations themselves, they can reinvest that income to buy their own congressmen and senators. This cycle repeats ad infinitum as media dollars fund the passage of laws that produce more media profits to fund more legislation, and on and on. The same principle holds true for any industry that can now buy laws that increase their bottom lines so they can buy more laws that increase their bottom lines.
Imagine now how this will effect Fox News. They have already contributed millions to right-wing politicians and causes via the free air time they have devoted to them. Republicans are able to make fundraising appeals on Fox News whenever they want. Fox even re-branded the Tea Bagger’s events as FNC Tea Parties while promoting them incessantly in the weeks prior. Going forward they will have much greater latitude to support or oppose candidates with financing that goes directly to advertising that they can buy from themselves. In the end, this makes Rupert Murdoch even richer and more capable of influencing American (and world) governments and spreading lies and disinformation to his readers and viewers.
There needs to be a rapid and forceful response to this abhorrent decision. President Obama released a statement saying:
“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. This ruling gives the special interests and their lobbyists even more power in Washington–while undermining the influence of average Americans who make small contributions to support their preferred candidates. 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. The public interest requires nothing less.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer has promised to hold hearings within a couple of weeks. Sen. Russ Feingold (of McCain/Feingold fame) has expressed his opposition to the ruling. And so has John McCain. So there may be congressional will to remedy this atrocious stance by the five rightist justices who regard corporations as, not just persons, but preferred parties in the eyes of the law. It is imperative that Congress rectify this error, but they must go further to eradicate the perverse legal notion of “corporate personhood.” If that takes a Constitutional amencment then let’s get started. In fact, some folks already have:
Move To Amend
And here is a great analysis by Greg Palast describing the risk of hidden and foreign campaign funds.