Thursday, January 21, 2010

Democracy in America: RIP


Today the U.S Supreme Court may have ended democracy in America.

In its Thursday ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the court basically overturned federal laws, dating back to 1907, that limit spending by corporations on political advertising. By implication it rules similar state laws are also unconstitutional and violate corporations rights [sic] to free speech.

While still leaving some doubt as to the legality of laws banning direct corporate donations to candidates, it completely and absolutely removed any and all limits on corporate donations to independent groups spending before prior or during elections. It also allows, for the first time since 1947, direct and unlimited spending by corporations on political advertising.

Thus , for instance, there is nothing any longer preventing health insurance companies from spending billions on advertising against health care reform - or against Senators and Representatives who might support it. Massive grassroots fund raising - something that helped propel Obama to victory - can now be drowned out by a single multi million dollar check by a corporation.

(This, by the way is the exact opposite direction from that taken by Canada in the last few years that has completely banned corporate advertising in politics and severely limited the size of individuals to political campaigns. The only way to effectively raise political money in Canada now, is from many small donations, not from a few big givers.)

If the American Congress does not come up with a new and creative way to limit corporate control of politics through its deep pockets: one that can be effective while not running afoul of this new Supreme Court ruling; and if it can not pass this work-around into law before next years midterm elections, then democary in America will likley be lost.

America will come to be (now more than ever) ruled by
Government of the People, By the Lackeys, For the Rich.

If Obama and the Democrats can do any good at all over the next year, it would be to rally the American people against this corporate coup-d'etat, and to quickly find a way around this devastating attack on democracy. Left unchecked this ruling may be the most far reaching change to American politics (and for the worse) in 100 years.

* * *

In case you think I am being overwrought, I quote from the dissenting opinion of Justice Stevens:

...In the context of election to public office, the distinction between corporate and human speakers is significant. Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it. They cannot vote or run for office. Because they may be managed and controlled by nonresidents, their interests may conflict in fundamental respects with the interests of eligible voters. The financial resources, legal structure,and instrumental orientation of corporations raise legitimate concerns about their role in the electoral process. Our lawmakers have a ... democratic duty, to take measures designed to guard against the potentially deleterious effects of corporate spending in local and national races. ...

The majority’s approach to corporate electioneering marks a dramatic break from our past. Congress has placed special limitations on campaign spending by corporations ever since the passage of the Tillman Act in 1907, ... The Court today rejects a century of history when it treats thedistinction between corporate and individual campaign spending ...

The Court’s ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation. ...

Going forward, corporations ... will be free to spend as much general treasury money as they wish on ads that support or attack specific candidates, whereas national parties will not be able to spend a dime of soft money on ads of any kind. The Court’s ruling thus dramatically enhances the role of corporations ... —and the narrow interests they represent—vis-à-vis the role of political parties—and the broad coalitions they represent—in determining who will hold public office. ...

President Roosevelt, in his 1905 annual message to Congress, declared:
“‘All contributions by corporations to any political committee or for any political purpose should be forbidden by law; directors should not be permitted to use stockholders’ money for such purposes; and, moreover, a prohibition of this kind would be, as far as it went, an effective method of stopping the evils aimedat in corrupt practices acts.’” ...

The fact that corporations are different from human beings might seem to need no elaboration, except that the majority opinion almost completely elides it. ... Unlike natural persons, corporations have “limited liability” for their owners and managers, “perpetual life,” separation of ownership and control, “and favorable treatment of the accumulation and distribution of assets . . . that enhance their ability to attract capital and to deploy their resources in ways that maximize the return on their shareholders’ investments.” ... Unlike voters in U. S. elections, corporations may be foreign controlled....
“‘[T]he resources in the treasury of a business corporation,’” furthermore, “‘are not an indication of popular support for the corporation’s political ideas.’” ...

It might also be added that corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires. Corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their “personhood” oftenserves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of “We the People” by whom and for whom our Constitution was established. ...

It is an interesting question “who” is even speaking when a business corporation places an advertisement that endorses or attacks a particular candidate. Presumably it is not the customers or employees, who typically have no say in such matters. It cannot realistically be said to be the shareholders, who tend to be far removed from the day-to-day decisions of the firm and whose political preferences may be opaque to management. Perhaps the officersor directors of the corporation have the best claim to be the ones speaking, except their fiduciary duties [technically at least] prohibit them from using corporate funds for personal ends. Some individuals associated with the corporation must make the decision to place the ad, [but who?] ...

In addition to [the] immediate drowning out of non-corporate voices, there may be deleterious effects that follow soon thereafter. Corporate “domination” of electioneering, ... can generate the impression [sic] that corporations dominate our democracy. When citizens turn on their televisions and radios before an election and hear only corporate electioneering, they may lose faith in their capacity, as citizens, to influence public policy.
A Government captured by corporate interests, they may come to believe, will be neither responsive to their needs nor willing to give their views a fair hearing. The predictable result is cynicism and disenchantment: an increased perception that large spenders “‘call the tune’” and a reduced “‘willingness of voters to take part in democratic governance.’” ...
To the extent that corporations are allowed to exert undue influence in electoral races, the speech of the eventual winners of those races may also be chilled. Politicians who fear that a certain corporation can make or break their reelection chances may be cowed into silence about that corporation.On a variety of levels, unregulated corporate electioneering might diminish the ability of citizens to “hold officials accountable to the people,” ...

The majority’s unwillingness to distinguish between corporations and humans similarly blinds it to the possibility that corporations’ “war chests” and their special “advantages” in the legal realm, ... may translate into special advantages in the market for legislation. When large numbers of citizens have a common stake in a measure that is under consideration, it may be very difficult for them to coordinate resources on behalf of their position. The corporate form, by contrast,“provides a simple way to channel rents to only those who have paid their dues, ... "

If individuals in our society had infinite free time to listen to and contemplate every last bit of speech uttered by anyone, anywhere; and if broadcast advertisements had nospecial ability to influence elections apart from the merits of their arguments (to the extent they make any); and if legislators always operated with nothing less than perfect virtue; then I suppose the majority’s premise might be sound. In the real world, we have seen, corporate domination of the airwaves prior to an election may decrease the average listener’s exposure to relevant viewpoints, and it may diminish citizens’ willingness and capacity to participate in the democratic process. ...

The Court’s blinkered and aphoristic approach to the First Amendment may well promote corporate power at the cost of the individual and collective self-expression the Amendment was meant to serve. It will undoubtedly cripple the ability of ordinary citizens, Congress, and the States to adopt even limited measures to protect against corporate domination of the electoral process. ...

In a democratic society, the longstanding consensus on the need to limit corporate campaign spending should outweigh the wooden application of judge-made rules. ... At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense.

While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majorityof this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.
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From:

Justice Stevens dissenting opinion starts on page 88.








1 Comments:

Blogger Eric said...

That wasn't the funeral it was the Yarhziet of the Supremes destroying democracy in the 2000 election

2:32 pm  

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