Thursday, February 4, 2010

146. Democracy now for sale, cheap

Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer, in a blog for the American Constitutional Society, wrote this about the decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, "The decision will unleash unprecedented amounts of corporate "influence-seeking" money on our elections and create unprecedented opportunities for corporate "influence-buying" corruption. With a stroke of the pen, five Justices wiped out a century of American history devoted to preventing corporate corruption of our democracy."

The case was the result of a movie about Hillary Clinton produced by the conservative group, Citizens United, that it wanted broadcasted on cable channels during the 2008 Democratic primaries. However, the federal courts thought the movie was more of a political advertisement and applied political campaigning regulations.

The case evolved slightly to consider whether the ban on the purchase of political ads placed on corporations and labor organizations, which prevented the infusion of even more corporate money and influence on government, should be overturned.

In a 5-4 decision, the conservative segment of the Supreme Court ignored precedent and opened the door for the use of corporate profits to further corporate interest by influencing elections. In many cases, campaign spending wins elections and the pressure will be on both Republicans and Democrats to secure corporate support. This support, of course, comes at a price-one paid by the American public.

The court used the First Amendment to make the argument of free speech under the pretext that a corporation has the legal right of a "person." Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, stating, "If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech."

However, what sounds democratically engaging is actually a license to corrupt, which is why the regulation existed in the first place. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote of such in his dissent, "The court's ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions around the nation."

What it really means to the American public is that their hard work for a corporation, and the profits realized therein, may be used by corporate officers and directors to help elect candidates or support issues that they adamantly oppose.

Daniel J.H. Greenwood, Professor of Law, Hofstra University School of Law, in his blog for the American Constitutional Society, agrees and takes it one step further, "Most importantly, if corporations - which are not citizens and many of which are multi-national organizations with interests that may be radically opposed to those of ordinary Americans - are allowed to freely intervene in our elections, then each citizen must have a corresponding decrease in influence. My contribution means less if I must compete with BP-Amoco and not just my fellow Americans' money."

What is also means for voters is that they will have to sort through the interest of corporations and labor unions who choose to engage in political advertisements. The advertisements will likely lead to more misconceptions, more half-truths and more negative campaigning. Those that will spend to win elections will be counting on an uninformed public, one that will subscribe to marketing over education in casting their votes. After all, who has the time to research each and every political assertion?

It seems that America is willing to continue down this dangerous road, one that avoids the interest of ordinarily middle class Americans in favor of industries that need bailed out because they are "too big to fail" and corporations who are given the green light to run roughshod over our economic and political systems.

We do not fight. The wealthy are dominant and united, the rest of us are powerless-divided into conservatives and liberals, fighting over things like immigration and abortion. We not only succumb to the ideologies that created this system, but we march it forward. We patriotically raise our fist for capitalism while our political systems become corrupt, the poor get poorer and the sick die. We've sold out democracy. I don't know how much clearer the picture needs to be.