Sunday, January 24, 2010

Corporate influence unleashed

Original Link:

If you think special-interest money is already choking democracy, just wait until last week's Supreme Court ruling opens the floodgates on corporate cash.

The 5-4 decision has the potential to put every elected body, from the U.S. Congress to Kentucky's judiciary, under corporate ownership — lock, stock and barrel.

It's a low point for the Supreme Court. Justices who promised to eschew judicial activism stretched a narrow question into a radical renunciation of a century-old doctrine.

They also manipulated the process to hurry their decision in time for this year's midterm elections.

The ruling comes from the same bloc of the court that stopped the vote count in Florida in 2000 and installed George W. Bush as president. So this is not the first time these so-called conservative jurists have stomped on the democratic process.

To provide an example of the ruling's potential impact, Michael Waldman, executive director of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University law school, used the example of Exxon-Mobil whose political action committee raised about $1 million in voluntary contributions from employees and officers in 2008.

That's money that could legally be spent to influence elections. Exxon's profits were $45 billion that year — money that was legally blocked from pouring into politics until now.

As long as this ruling is the law of the land, lobbyists will be able to guarantee lawmakers, presidents, governors and elected judges that their business will spend whatever it takes to defeat or re-elect them, depending on whether they do the business' bidding.

The ruling also is expected to apply to labor unions and non-profit organizations, freeing them to spend from their general funds to influence elections.

But corporations have far more money to spread around than unions or non-profits. The court clearly created a political advantage for business interests.

Adopting Sen. Mitch McConnell's view that money is speech, the majority based its decision on the First Amendment. "The censorship we now confront is vast in its reach," Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his majority opinion.

To arrive at that decision, the court overturned two Supreme Court rulings.

Limits on direct corporate spending in elections date back to Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican president who pushed through the Tillman Act in 1907 to curb the influence of powerful businesses interests known as Robber Barons.

Last week the Supreme Court destroyed TR's century-old barrier just as President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress are attempting to enact reforms on this generation of Robber Barons.

It will be interesting to see how the flood of corporate cash capitalizes on today's unprecedented reach of communications technology into people's lives.

We're pretty sure it won't be the marketplace of ideas that the Constitution's framers had in mind.

No comments:

Post a Comment