Time to end corporate rule

Home Editorial & Opinion Time to end corporate rule

by Paul Smith -The Corsair

Last semester I wrote a piece for The Corsair warning of the dangers that could befall this great nation if the Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission was decided the wrong way. I forewarned that this case could open the floodgates for corporations to spend unlimited sums of cash to drown our political process.

Well, guess what? It’s monsoon season.

To briefly recap this case: In 2008, the conservative nonprofit organization Citizens United tried to run television ads for their anti-Hilary Clinton documentary “Hilary: The Movie,” but the commercials violated campaign finance provisions under the McCain-Feingold Act and were not allowed to be broadcast, prompting Citizens United to sue the FEC.

The Supreme Court, in a recent 5-4 decision, sided in favor of Citizens United, overturning those key provisions in the McCain-Feingold Act that prohibited corporations from broadcasting “electioneering communications,” essentially allowing a torrential downfall of corporate money to deluge political campaigns.

While the exact ramifications of this decision may not yet be known, many constitutional scholars fear this decision will be the final catalyst for allowing corporations to essentially buy our elections (even more so than they already do).

While I disagree with the court’s ruling, I concede that this is a very complicated issue that does not lend well to easy answers.

For those who agree with this decision, at stake is the First Amendment, and whether it should ever be limited either for corporations or real people.

Even the usually liberal-leaning American Civil Liberties Union, among many others, agreed with this decision—and they have a point.

This ruling did not actually overturn the Tillman Act of 1907 which barred corporations from contributing money directly to campaigns. This current ruling focused on whether corporations have the right to make “electioneering communications,” as in campaign advertising, commercials, documentaries, etc. in support of candidates they favor.

However, the difference is very negligible considering most money in campaign coffers goes to advertising anyway. This Supreme Court ruling has now given the green light for corporations to spend an unlimited amount of money on our electoral process.

For example, Exxon-Mobile could spend a billion dollars in support of a presidential candidate if they were so inclined.

Not only does this create an extremely unfair disadvantage for the average citizen competing against the enormous wealth of corporations, but it further exacerbates the collusion of big business and government.

The problem is not just about free speech; the problem is about the corruption of politics and our politicians being beholden to the interests of corporations rather than the interests of the average people who can actually vote.

So, while on purely constitutional grounds this decision does make some sense in trying to protect the First Amendment, ultimately, it further corrupts an already broken system.

As mentioned earlier, I do not believe there are easy solutions to this issue, but there are a few areas we could consider to perhaps try and remedy this situation.

For example, there is already a growing movement to convince Congress to pass a constitutional amendment guaranteeing free speech and equal protection for only natural living persons and not corporate persons, a move that would effectively end the concept and legality of corporate personhood.

This idea does make some sense considering corporations are granted the legal status of persons, even though they are clearly not human beings and do not even have the right to vote. However, trying to limit the free speech of a corporation also has its problems.

Every newspaper, magazine, movie studio and television network is a corporation. Why should it be acceptable for the New York Times to endorse a presidential candidate but not Dow Chemical Company? I can think of a few reasons, but still—you get my point.

Another way some have sought to fix this problem is to remove all the private money from political campaigns and politics altogether, and move toward public financing of elections.

Many democracies, such as the United Kingdom, do not allow any private money into their electoral process whether from corporations or citizens. Instead, the government gives the candidates a set equal sum of money and equal free television time for campaign advertisements.

Removing the money from our political system definitely sounds appealing and seems like a good start, but many here in America fear public financing could drown out independent or third-party candidates and only work to solidify the domination of the two-party system.

So, there is certainly no quick or obvious solution to this issue, but what is certain is that our system is radically out of order. There is also no denying that this Supreme Court decision does nothing but make the problem worse.

The founding fathers and framers of the Constitution could never have foreseen a future when corporations have both the influence and resources they possess today. And, if we don’t find a solution soon to this problem, it may be time for a new revolution and declaration of independence—one not from the ruthless reign of a monarchy, but from the strangling grip of the corporatocracy.