Today, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on the constitutionality of the restrictions that have been placed on corporate money in politics. The ruling may be one of the Court’s most critical decisions in an age which has seen one Presidential campaign accumulate almost a billion dollars in contributions. When the constitutionality of any far reaching federal law is opposed, it is a matter of national relevance, however, when a law affecting the foundation of the Democracy is challenged, such event should be arousing everyone’s notice and should be at the forefront of all news media outlets.
The case in front of the Supreme Court, Citizens v. Federal Election Commission, revolves around a documentary called “Hillary: The Movie,” produced by Citizens United. Based on Hillary Clinton, the film was banned for violating the McCain-Feingold bill which requires disclosure on funding sources, and stipulates that neither corporate or union treasuries can finance any “ad” pro or con just before a primary.
The 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA), also known as the McCain-Feingold bill, was the last major piece of legislation passed to control the source of financing for Federal political campaigns. The bill eliminated soft money donations to the national party committees, and restricted the funding of political pronouncements, ads, etc., by corporations, or organizations such as unions and non-profit organizations.
The arguments and presentations beginning today in front of the Supreme Court, will address a question all voters should take a stand on. Are your rights to free speech the same as the rights of corporations or organizations? Corporations and organizations are not individuals, they do not have the inherent rights of the people, nor do they have the same privileges. They are vehicles created and used by society for diverse purposes. Voters should seek to minimize their further influence on the political process and on the political landscape.
You will hear and read arguments whining that the government is treating organizations big and small, unfairly by prohibiting election advocacy, and is in effect imposing censorship. Some suggest that such treatment of organizations provides them less protection in the eyes of the law than is provided to individuals. The suggestion that organizations should be equal to individuals under the law twists the interpretation of the Constitution beyond common sense, and ignores the fact that current laws provide organizations with rights and privileges not available to individuals. Let’s not let anyone convince us that organizations are “persons.”
You will also hear that the media companies have no restrictions on their election leanings, or that restrictions do not apply to them and should therefore equally not apply to other corporate entities. While it is true that media companies have been given a pass on their ability to “manipulate” opinion, this is not a persuasive argument for overturning laws that in themselves do not go far enough in the restrictions of campaign finance.
The First Amendment of the Constitution explicitly prohibits Congress from infringing on the individual’s freedom of speech (other than inciting government overthrow), and as we long ago learned, free speech is a great freedom, but is not so “free.” While you may be able to shout your ideas, demands or wishes freely out your window to the extremes your lungs will allow without bursting, you will not achieve the reach that well financed organizations are able to affect as they shout at you through your invasive televisions.
This court decision revolves around financing free speech, but at its heart is the impact the decision will have on ability of organizations to influence voter perception. Organizations large and small already have too much influence on the electoral process. Corporations and labor organizations already impact election outcomes through such vehicles as Political Action Committees (PACs), or through the doors of political party organizations. We should note that the billion dollar campaign which carried Barack Obama into the Oval Office could not be audited by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) because the task was too onerous. Do not believe the pretense that the FEC is a watchdog, or does its job of monitoring campaign contributions, much less where and how the money is spent.
Allowing entities to finance the formation of perceptions, places a vast amount of power in the few hands at the helms of those entities, far overreaching the capacities of their “rank and file.” Politics have always been and will always be subject to self-serving influences. As wealth concentration continues unabated, effective control of the political process has already been skewed away from the average taxpayer. Simply put, the CEO of Goldman Sachs reaching into the company coffers has access to more money than you do to impact the outcome of an electoral campaign, and it’s not even his money. Neither shareholders, nor his employees, have any say on the candidate receiving the CEO’s largesse.
Some alternative legislation should be considered, including anonymity of donations, capping personal contributions and matching them with government funds, as well as eliminating all corporate and union political contributions and related loopholes. Beyond cleaning up the abuse of the process, this would bring campaign funding and spending within realms that might foster the advance of alternative parties to the political game on the national stage.
Should the Supreme Court overturn years of tested law in favor of corporate and union spending, it will relegate the taxpaying voter to that of second-class citizen, and insinuate a gigantic crack into the democratic process. No matter what the Supreme Court decides, the voter should take a stand at the poles with facts rather than with the prejudice of well-financed and influential rhetoric and advertisements.
High definition cameras bringing the drama into public consciousness should invade this upcoming Supreme Court hearing, and educate voters on the fundamental process none can take for granted. A Democracy is a very fragile environment demanding fastidious nurturing. “We the people,” was never intended to mean, “We the corporations and unions.”
A constituent of the vast baby boomer generation with a career which has been fortunate to know the ponderous corporate worlds, as well as the intimately pressurized, and invigorating entrepreneurial domains of high tech and venture capital, I have harvested my share of mistakes meandering through corridors of enterprise from Silicon Valley, to London and endless, colourful, sometimes praetorian points in between. The voyage has provided an abundance of fodder for a pen yielding to an inquisitive keyboard, a foraging mind, and a passionate spirit.
Whether political or business or social or economic or personal, is it not all political? It is a privilege to write, and an even greater privilege to be read by anyone, and sometimes with the wind at my back the writing may occasionally be legible. I do not write to invite scorn, nor to invite respect, but if I get really lucky the writing can stimulate thinking. I also write for the very selfish purpose of animating my own processes, and engaging the best of what life offers. Above all, whether biting fire or swatting shadows, I am grateful to be gifted the freedom to write and publish whatever flows down to the keyboard. To all those who enabled this freedom, and to all those standing guard to preserve it, I am indebted.