A bitterly divided Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that the government may not ban political spending by corporations, labor unions or other organizations in elections. The court’s majority in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission swept aside a century-old doctrine in election law, ruling that the campaign finance restriction violated the First Amendment’s free speech principles. The dissenters said opening the floodgates to corporate money will corrupt democracy.
In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “The censorship we now confront is vast in its reach.”
Justice John Paul Stevens wrote a blistering dissent which he read in court –it’s somewhat unusual for a justice to read his dissent but John Paul Stevens did because he and three other so-called liberal members of the court feel the court is abandoning precedent and is making a terrible mistake by turning the American political system loose to the rapacious meanderings of self-interested entities like corporations, unions and other large and well-funded organizations trying to work their political will.
Abuse of freedom?
It’s ironic how five conservative judges suddenly and abruptly decide freedom of speech is a good thing, but that’s another matter.
More to the point, the court’s ruling is a vexing one because on the one hand, we live in a society that values freedom, and generally, society prospers more often when freedoms are expanded, not contracted, but when freedom is abused, then what? Freedom and equality of opportunity are among the core principles of our founding documents. It’s a problem if the abuse of one ends up dismantling the integrity of other.
The court’s ruling didn’t expand free speech, it expanded access for those who could afford that free speech. If you donate $50 bucks to a candidate, you get a robo-call. If you donate $50,000, you get access. They’re not the same thing. What do you think: Was Chris Dodd was beholden to his constituents or to the financial institutions that flooded his campaign war chest?
Free speech didn’t win. Bought speech won.
One of the reasons that we’ve just gone through this wrenching disaster of trying to put together a health reform bill, apart from the fact that there are genuine disagreements among us as to what ought to be in it, is this pervasive, corrosive influence of special interest lobbying money.
Many of these Senators and members of Congress are bought and paid for by the health insurance industry, by the hospital industry, by the pharmaceutical industry. And that’s just a start.
The court’s ruling comes at a time when we are concerned that lobbyists and the special interests they represent have much too much influence in the Congress and in statehouse around the country, and at a time when anger in the country is driven –in part– by a frustrating sense elected officials do not represent their constituents as much as the moneyed interests in Washington.
When was the last time an “elected” representative of the People actually represented the People? We don’t have good representation in government as it is; I’m concerned this decision will result in even less representation as self-interest parties with financial reservoirs wield more influence.
But unless Congress writes a ban on corporate contributions that’ll pass Constitutional muster*, we’re stuck. The Supreme Court’s ruling is final: You cannot prohibit the right of people or corporations to make political contributions. They have a First Amendment right to donate megabucks to whatever political cause they wish to support.
So, let’s not fight over it, let’s not be depressed, let’s not say the system is ruined. Instead, let’s use the system to find somebody with megabucks. Because the one thing the Supreme Court did not change in its ruling: It did not change the fact that every contribution must be identified as to the source of the money. And therein lies my fantasy solution to this problem. It’s my own little political dream.
A political dream
What this country needs is a selfless billionaire committed to good government who’d be willing to put up a boatload of money –whatever it takes — to mount a movement for good government.
If you could get someone like Bill Gates or Warren Buffett to commit $400 million (a drop in the Atlantic for their bank accounts) to start a third party, that would be a worthy effort. If they formed a war chest that was overwhelming in size and took advantage of the Supreme Court’s decision to do what I’ve always argued: The answer to free speech is more free speech.
Set up a Good Government Party or a Good Government organization. Get candidates in every congressional district in the country, and in every state for the Senate in which there is a contest and invite them to sign a clean government pledge. They pledge to take NO special interest money. They take no donation for their political campaign over $100 and take it only from individuals –no money from corporations.
In exchange for their pledge, the good government party or the good government committee will provide the money they need to be competitive in their race. Doesn’t matter what political party they belong to unless you want to make Good Government your party.
And in every district where Good Government candidates are running, get an absolute army of investigators and turn them loose on these people. There are plenty of good, unemployed journalists who’d not only love to be working, but they be working at journalism’s true calling as a fourth branch of government that keeps government honest. Hire them. Have them go through every single contribution sent to politicians running against Good Government candidates. Then shout from the hilltops the names of those who are buying their influence –what corporations, what associations, what special interest groups, what lobbyists– so we can expose these candidates as the stalking horses they are of whatever special interest we find.
That’s my dream.
I see it more like a movement (and no, I don’t think what I’ve described is the Tea Party movement) because it doesn’t matter to me whether the person running is a Republican or Democrat. What matters is that the person running is not tied to the special interests as so many members of the Congress are today.
I’m not a millionaire by any stretch of the imagination. But I’d be happy to sign on for a pledge of whatever I thought I could afford. And I’ll bet many of you would, too.
As with McCarthyism, our elected representatives know no shame. They will continue to support the status quo until someone steps forward with a sufficient amount of courage and resolve and calls them out into the open.
Is there any chance of this happening, an effort to clean up government at the federal level in one fell swoop in the next congressional election? Want to expose these frauds who are not in public life, in any political party? People who are on the take from special interests who vote the interest of their donors rather than their constituents?
How about $200, $300 or $400 million and let’s mount a good government campaign and defeat every member of Congress who takes any special interest money more than $100 from individuals and clean this mess up.
*Democracy does not work. You have to work it.
I told you it was just a dream. How about you? You do want your country back, don’t you?
**Footnote: An opportunity for solution through the existing democratic process:In essence, the decision said that the free speech of the corporations cannot be denied. That idea is rooted in an 1886 Supreme Court decision Santa Clara County-v-Southern Pacific Railroad in which the Supreme Court held —without discussion— that corporations were persons within the meaning of the 14th Amendment.
That means they’re human beings. A piece of paper created by a state has been decided by the Supreme Court to be a human being with blood, brains and a beating heart.
The way you solve this problem is to change the definition of a corporation. It’s one path the Congress could take, devising legislation in accordance with the Constitution that rules that corporations are not human beings.
Just one problem: With the floodgates wide open for special interest groups to spend unlimited amounts of money as per Citizens United, what’s to stop a corporation, labor union or other well-funded organization from killing such a measure by pouring untold amounts of money into the laps of lawmakers?