January 29, 2010
‘Citizens United’ ruling a disaster for democracy
If we thought the flow of money in politics was bad before, we ain’t seen nothing yet.
Last week, in a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court of the United States elevated corporations to the level of actual persons with a free-speech guarantee under the first amendment to advocate for the election or defeat of candidates. This was the work of activist conservative judges, ignoring precedent and invalidating over a century of established campaign finance law dating back to the trust-busting days of Teddy Roosevelt.
The ruling frees companies like health insurance reform villain Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC, Big Oil companies like Exxon Mobil, and major Wall Street banks like Goldman Sachs to spend whatever it takes to make sure candidates friendly to their interests win at the ballot box.
Even more dangerous than mega-companies being able to right a blank check to buy an election, the ruling leaves the door open to foreign controlled corporations and foreign sovereign wealth to pour into the United States.
The ruling on constitutional grounds invalidates state and local laws, too – like those on the books in North Carolina which prohibited corporations from this type of electioneering.
Ostensibly, the ruling applies to unions and other non-profits because we are also corporations, albeit of a different kind than for-profit multinationals with literally billions of dollars to spend to protect their interests. In reality, there’s no comparison to the economic power (now turned political power) of these companies.
Here’s the AFL-CIO’s statement on the Citizens United ruling:
By allowing unlimited corporate treasury expenditures that explicitly support or oppose particular candidates, the Court has increased the already excessive influence corporations exert in our electoral system. And we believe the Court wrongly treated corporate expenditures the same as union expenditures, contrary to the arguments we made in our brief in this case. Unions, unlike business, are democratically-controlled, non-profit member organizations representing working men and women across the country, and their independent speech should accordingly be given greater protection.
The AFL-CIO supports a system of campaign finance regulation that promotes democratic participation in elections by individuals and their associations; protects legitimate independent speech rights; offers public financing to candidates while firmly regulating contributions to them; and guarantees effective disclosure of who is paying for what.
Of course, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is also a non-profit member organization – one to which it’s member corporations are now free to give whatever amount of money they see fit to push a pro-corporate, free trade, anti-worker, and anti-environment agenda at the ballot box.