In a convulsion of activisim, the Republican Supreme Court clan has handed an astonishing victory to big corporate America. In a 5-4 decision, all Republican appointees to the Supreme Court came squarely down on the side of big business by sweeping away limits on campaign spending that makes the now-existing monetary chasm between corporate America and the average citizen a canyon of enormous proportions.
The Founding Fathers had a fear of corporate power having been under the thumb of corporate rule from England. And American citizens also distrusted corporate entities – legislatures held tight control over corporations until the mid-1800s.
Corporate law at the time was focused on protection of the public interest, and not on the interests of corporate shareholders. Corporate charters were closely regulated by the states; forming a corporation usually required an act of legislature. The penalty for abuse or misuse of the corporate charter was not a plea bargain and a fine, but dissolution of the corporation.
With the advent of the industrial age, corporate power grew with the shift from an agrarian society to a wage-earner based society. Corporate owners amassed fortunes, using their powers to buy legislators who weakened laws that had previously limited corporate influence. In Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, 118 U.S. 394 (1886), the United States Supreme Court recognized the corporation as a ‘natural person’ under law – albeit in a statement of obiter dictum. The Court intimated in its statement that corporations were entitled to protection under the 14th amendment – an amendment originally passed to protect emancipated slaves in the hostile south.
Corporations are mere legal entities – fictions created by law. They are not human beings – they cannot vote, they cannot drive a car, they cannot have families, and on and on. They lack virtually every trait that human beings possess, yet somehow, somewhere along the path of advancing industrialization and power grabs by “robber barons”, corporations became “persons” for the purpose of the Constitution’s 14th amendment protections.
With flippant disregard for the realities of the true identity of corporations and the magnitude of corporate spending power, the Supreme Court Republican “Gang of Five” has fallen into bed with corporate powers. The instigator in the case, Citizens United, touts on its website a laughable statement, “Dedicated to Restoring our Government to Citizen Control.”
Surely they jest! Sweeping away limits on corporate contributions certainly does not in any sense return “government to citizen control.” The decision simply creates even more power and control in corporate entities. Some will argue that unions will benefit from this decision as well. Unions will benefit; however, unions hold nowhere near the power and control that is exercised by corporations.
In 2009, the union membership rate for public sector workers (37.4 percent) was substantially higher than the rate for private industry workers (7.2 percent). In total, union membership only reaches 44.6% of workers. Simply allowing unions to contribute just as corporations do does not equalize the situation. Corporate influence is now at 100% while union influence – public and private – is at only 44.6%.
The Court has masked its support of corporate power by relying on the old bugaboo of infringing on “free speech.” Cutting its ties with previous decisions limiting the ability of corporations to influence elections by tossing out millions of dollars in campaign contributions, the Court has disregarded the Founding Fathers rationale behind free speech as crucial in a democracy. In the marketplace of ideas, free speech is considered essential for voters to make informed selections during elections.
The Republican clique on the Supreme Court has continued the Bush administration’s catering and kowtowing to corporate powers – a trend that will leave American citizens with diminishing control over the election process while increasing corporate ability to buy elections.
If the Wall Street bailout was a disaster for American citizens then unfettered corporate access to buying elections may very well be the ruin of the election process as we know it.