Thursday, January 21, 2010

THE SUPREMES JUST CHANGED THE GAME

Politics, big business, money and high technology. Now there is a recipe for power, right? Chew on that for a moment while we explore what happened in the Supreme Court this week.

The Justices this week amended a six decade old law that limits the amount of money that corporations or labor unions can contribute to a political candidate’s campaign. Until now, there were severe restrictions on such donations, particularly since 2002 when the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (more commonly referred to as McCain-Feingold) was enacted. This week, the Supreme Court essentially negated McCain-Feingold, and opened the door to a new era in which corporations and labor unions can spend as much of their organizational funds as they wish to ensure that “their” candidate is elected.

So what? Well, critics of the decision to reverse McCain-Feingold say this will severely inhibit the electoral process. Big business and labor will elect the President, while the common man, if you will, will have even less power and influence on perhaps the most important decision the citizenry makes.

The decision is the result of a suit brought by Citizens United, an conservative group that produced a film called “Hillary The Movie” during the 2008 campaign. The anti-Hillary film was shut down after a federal court ruled that the showing of this film violated the McCain-Feingold act. Because it was paid for by corporations in the 30 days before a presidential primary and in the 60 days before the general election, the court ruled it was in direct violation. Here is the trailer from the movie:

Supporters of the Supreme Court decision are leaning heavily on the First Amendment to the Constitution, somehow connecting the right of free speech with the right to spend massive amounts of money to ensure that a message is conveyed to the public. That is the sticking point in my mind. Since when is the amount of money someone spends to convey an idea commensurate with how much freedom he or she has to say it?

The Court was split 5-4 on this. Justice Anthony Kennedy, speaking for the majority opinion, said, "Because speech is an essential mechanism of democracy -- it is the means to hold officials accountable to the people. Political speech must prevail against laws that would suppress it by design or inadvertence.”

The great irony here is that this grassroots, non-profit organization, Citizens United, managed to open the doors for the biggest profit-making corporations in the world to spend astronomical amounts of cash to elect politicians that will favor their commercial agendas.

Something tells me when the founding fathers drafted the Constitution, they were not associating the amount of money someone had with the freedom that they had to speak up. It is the current Supreme Court that has now made that assertion, and it seems quite twisted. And how timely: For years then, according to the Court, America has been denying corporate America its right to express itself. It just so happens that right as corporations get to spend as much as they want to promote a candidate, technology is simultaneously sophisticated enough to spread their message to a wider audience in real time. In terms of the potential for special interest groups to sway an election, I'd call this moment a perfect storm.

President Obama is not pleased. Shortly after the decision was rendered, Obama said, "With its ruling today, the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics. It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.”

With that he immediately issued a directive to Congress to start hashing this whole thing out in a bipartisan fashion and to push back against the Court’s decision. The trouble is that legal experts say there is not a whole lot Congress can do to counter the Supreme Court.

Talk radio is having a field day with this development. On Thursday, Rush Limbaugh pronounced Obama an “idiot who just happens to be President.” When Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said the Court’s decision “undermines Democracy” and taints the electoral process, Fox's Sean Hannity used his airtime to launch personal attacks on Schumer, rather than to counter the Senator’s claims with a reasonable defense of the decision. Here is what Schumer said after the decision was handed down:

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Here is why this matters to you. For example, if the oil industry spends millions of dollars during a Presidential campaign, and its favored candidate wins, clearly the industry will have great persuasive power in Washington for the next four to eight years. That power easily can lead to legislation that favors the industry at the expense of your bank account. If the auto industry pushes its chosen candidate through, is it not possible it would use its newfound clout to see that certain safety or environmentally friendly features on cars may be eliminated, since the industry would prefer to spend less money manufacturing its vehicles?

And what about the airline industry? Currently in complete disarray, without even a person at the helm of the Transportation Safety Administration, what if it manages to maneuver a candidate into office? Will air marshals on domestic and international flights be eliminated to save money? Will airport security personnel be pared down to limit expenses? Will airlines manage to continue flying certain planes well after they should have been retired?

The Supreme Court’s decision is all about you. Everything that occurs in the upcoming elections this year and in 2012 is now likely to be highly influenced by corporate dollars and less influenced by you. The activity that occurs in an administration created by big business is likely to work against you, rather than for you. This brings us back to the strange bedfellows of politics, big business, money and high technology. Where do you and I fit in there? I can’t see that we do.
(Read the entire Supreme Court opinion on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission here)

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