Yesterday, on January 21, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court passed a landmark decision in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission that will drastically impact American politics, the upcoming 2010 midterm campaign season and the resulting U.S. legislation. It also dramatically erodes the idea that the U.S. Constitution was created for The People, individual People under the law. Instead, these ‘artificial people’ like Citizens United, or any other nonprofit organization (that are simply or intricately well funded by corporations) or any other organization, like a union (usually not so well funded) as a result of this ruling, now have more rights than any living, breathing, real person. These well-funded ‘artificial people’ like Citizens United, a corporately funded nonprofit organization, now have the right to use as much money as possible in order to influence the outcome of elections, and ultimately, U.S. legislation.
The recent Supreme Court decision effectively bastardizes U.S. elections and the resulting legislation. The Supreme Court ruled 5 against 4 (these types of rulings are always close) that the restrictions on the amount of funds spent by these organizations (perceived as artificial people) infringes on their first amendment right of free speech. Their collective decision has been built upon the history of previous Supreme Court decisions. The idea that money could be perceived as free speech was based on a previous 1978 ruling (5-4 National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti 1977/1978) that decided that corporate money could be perceived as free speech thus could not be limited as free speech should not be limited. Yet common sense tells a thinking person that a corporation or organization is simply not a living, breathing person that the U.S. Constitution was created to protect. After all, it begins, “We, the People…
Here’s what Supreme Court Justice Stevens had to say:
The conceit that corporations must be treated identically to natural persons in the political sphere is not only inaccurate but also inadequate to justify the Court’s disposition of this case.
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 compelling constitutional basis, if not also a democratic duty, to take measures designed to guard against the potentially deleterious effects of corporate spending in local and national races.
There are also sharp and strong undercurrents in this ruling that directly challenge the balance of power within the three branches of U.S. government. The balance of power in question is between the Judicial and Legislative branches. The Federal Elections Commission was created by Congress (Legislative branch) in order to limit the amount of corporate – based funds in elections, in an attempt to keep elections between rich or well funded candidates and poorly funded candidates more fair and equal. The recent ruling directly confronts the Legislative branch’s right to create legislation that limits the sometimes corrupting elements of cold, hard, seductive cash within the legislative (law creating) process.
It’s also important to understand sly corporate tactics. They will give themselves a name such as “Citizens United” or “Americans for Better Healthcare”, “Americans United for Good”, or something like “Citizens United For Good”, etc. in the attempt to further disguise themselves as actual citizens. Remember that they are not citizens. They are corporately funded ‘artificial people’, their goal being to further their neo-conservative agenda through the promotion of their media and propaganda. Check out the Citizens United website.
To better understand the development of this argument, we must go deeper into history. The idea that a corporation could be an ‘artificial citizen’ was decided in the post Civil War ruling, Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company, 118 U.S. 394 (1886). This was the first Supreme Court decision that decided that corporations could be perceived as artificial people with rights under the 14th amendment. (This is really a fascinating argument that I studied when doing the research for the documentary Considering Democracy. Here are other links to Supreme Court documents.
Arriving back in the present, we’ve seen the massive influx of funds in recent political campaigns in the presence the vast amounts of negative campaign advertisements and other types of media. Think of the sly effectiveness of the Swift Boat campaign against John Kerry, a decorated Vietnam war veteran and his resulting swift political demise. Compare that against the odd reality of the armed service record of his opponent, George Bush Junior, who had more dubious lack of a military record, supplemented instead with a drunk driving record, as Kerry was risking his life in the military service abroad. It was an amazing and effective tactic that overrode rationality of the U.S. public. As a result of the recent Supreme Court ruling, the twisting of truth will be taken to new heights during the 2010 campaign season, with the Republicans (traditionally more lavishly well-funded by corporations) chomping at the bit to reclaim some legislative seats.
The need to prohibit corporate funds in the election process is incredibly important to uphold democracy and to defend the rights of the real People. In another egregious corporate funded campaign that led to stupid, or even ridiculous legislation, lies in the evidence in the wake of Enron, the failed gas-energy financial assets trading company. We look back to the actions of the massive injections of funds and donations to campaign finance and see the resulting legislation that helped to create the accumulation of vast profit – that never actually existed in the first place, created by the legislation that should have never been legislated, yet allowed the looting to occur. Had Enron, a corporation, not contributed lots and lots of money to the political system – to both Republican and Democrat, the deregulation likely would not have been passed. The recent Supreme Court ruling effectively allows legislation to be bought – and this can be in the direct opposition to the will of real People. The infusion of vast amounts of money will negatively impact the political consciousness and its resulting legislation. This type of non-person, a nonprofit group, this corporate type of campaign finance, along with continual lobbying throughout the year, is a malicious danger to democracy and to the Republic.
The idea that a restriction on spending money similarly restricts the first amendment rights of free speech, when examined, is a fallacy in interpretation. It is important to realize that the rulings in the area of ‘corporate personhood’ have been highly contested and highly controversial, and very close. They have all been 5-4 rulings.
The American People are growing tired and weary of the negativity and overburdening persistence of lies in the fabric of our political conversation. Individuals within both major parties, both Democrat and Republican are growing tired of corporate and special interest manipulation that ultimately creates policy that continues to distance the United States from all the other developed countries and the countries that espouse democracy. Has change occurred one year into a new administration? The majority of the People voted for change in the last election. It is something that many People have not forgotten and is something to think about. Considering Democracy.