With the decision of the Supreme Court Thursday rolling back federal regulations on the ability of corporations to use their shareholder funds to influence elections our nation is truly on the verge of fascism. We are rapidly becoming a county where the interests of huge multi-national corporations are intertwined so tightly with the operation of our government that the needs of the people are completely ignored. The ability of corporations to spend unlimited amounts to oppose individual legislators can only have one effect; to stifle the speech and efforts of any elected official or candidate who opposes corporate rule.
For example, with the Supreme Courtâ€™s ruling yesterday CitiGroup, whose largest individual stockholder is a Saudi Arabian billionaire, can spend unlimited funds against any elected official who tries to regulate their activities. When they get in trouble again, legislators will have to make the choice of whether they must face the virtually limitless resources of CitiGroup used against them, or approve another no-strings-attached taxpayer funded bailout. We wonâ€™t need to worry about health insurance or health care reform because the health insurance companies will simply threaten to flex their financial muscle and drop $50 million on an independent campaign against any Senator facing a close re-election fight who doesnâ€™t support their positions.
People are understandably angry about the economy, the lack of progress on reforms of our political system, and the fact that the fat cats get all the breaks and they get nothing. People are angry and they arenâ€™t sure who to be angry at. The big corporations know that people do not know where to direct their anger. That is why they have spent millions of dollars propping up Astroturf groups to capitalize on that anger. This is just one example of the ability of corporations to manipulate political speech. They spend millions of dollars to capitalize on peopleâ€™s fears and then point to a person, a policy, a group of people, or elected officials and say â€œTheyâ€™re to blame. Thatâ€™s the reason things are so bad.â€ And like sheep, the masses believe them. They believe because they saw it on the news, or heard it from Hannity, Oâ€™Reilly, or Beck; all of the sources bought and paid for by big corporations.
In an editorial Thursday in the Orange County Register lauded the court decision as â€œA win for the First Amendment.â€ Well, if you believe that a corporation is a living person, then I guess it is a win. The Register asserts that corporations, and particularly nonprofit corporation, should be allowed to spend unlimited funds on political activities. The Register described the law overturned on Thursday as banning contributions from corporations as a means to prevent a kind of corruption. Corporate spending, it was said, would â€˜distortâ€™ and thereby â€˜corruptâ€™ elections,â€ The Register said. â€œThe idea was that corporations had so much money that their spending would create vast inequities in speech.â€
â€œEquality of speech is inherently contrary to protecting speech from government restraint, which, ultimately, is the heart of American conceptions of free speech,â€said the Registerâ€™s editors. â€œThursday’s ruling might lead to more election spending by both corporations and unions. It is important to remember, however, that none of this money will go directly to candidates for office. It will go, instead, to broadcasting or otherwise communicating speech about candidates and issues. Such increases in spending should be welcome because studies have shown that more spending â€“ more political communication â€“ leads to better-informed voters,â€ they added.
From what I can tell, the â€œLibertariansâ€ over at the Register believe that since the stockholders of corporations elect their boards of directors, that the boards should be able to approve any amount of expenditure on political speech.
From their perspective, if the stockholders donâ€™t like it, they can sell their stock or elect another board. Sounds reasonable to a point; until you consider that the vast majority of Americans donâ€™t own voting shares in corporations, and therefore have no way to influence corporate political decisions. Compared to the financial might of unlimited corporate political expenditures, the average person doesnâ€™t have a chance to influence anything.
However, when you bring up the topic of political expenditures by public employee unions the agenda of these so called freedom and liberty loving blow-holes at the Register becomes apparent because of their intellectual inconsistency. On December 3, 2009 an OC Register editorial, Paycheck Protection is Back,Â advocated the approval of a 2010 ballot measure authorized for signature collection that would make it illegal for public employee unions to automatically deduct money from members’ paychecks and use that money for political campaigns. The goal of the initiative is to ban all political expenditures by public employee unions unless they get written approval annually from their members to spend those funds on political activities. This is not only for contributions that employees have already approved to union political action committees (PAC), but also the expenditure of any union dues on any political activity.
Never mind the fact that public employee unions are corporations. Never mind the fact that the members of these unions elect their boards of directors. Never mind the fact that if the union members do not like how their dues or PAC contributions are spent they can throw out their boards and elect new leadership.
In their December editorial they write that the initiative is being driven by, â€œa coalition of citizens, business leaders and politicians are fighting to, as they term it, â€˜unplug the political machine.â€™ They are doing so at a time when the California economy is in disarray, and many people place some of the blame on special interests and their demands for government spending, like the public employee unions.â€ They say, â€œThe focus (of the initiative) will be on the structural issue of taking money directly from government payrolls and putting it into what amounts to political kickbacks to various causes.â€
So what gives? What happened all of a sudden to the First Amendment rights of public employee owned corporations? Why do the folks at the OC Register and for that matter most Republicans believe public employee unions, which are nonprofit corporations, should not have free speech rights? The answer is quite simple really. They do not like the idea of employees being able to join together to negotiate for livable wages, basic health care benefits, decent working conditions, and yes pension benefits that provide security when they retire.
Their agenda is not about protecting public employeeâ€™s union dues from being spent on causes that some members do not support. To be consistent with that argument they would need to agree to impose the same restrictions on â€œallâ€ corporations. They want to hold all of the cards; they donâ€™t want any competition for legislative support. If they can prevent public employee unions from being effective in advocating for their members, then the corporations they own wonâ€™t need to spend as much money to oppose them. Ultimately, the bastards make more money that way. In addition, they achieve their misguided agenda to dismantle all aspects of government and regulation by controlling the elected officials who make all the laws.
Remember, it was unions that made holiday pay a common benefit. It was unions who have raised the standards so that most employers need to offer affordable health care, vacation pay and sick pay in order to compete for quality workers. The support for the rise of corporate personhood, coupled with the attack on the ability of workers to advocate for their needs, does nothing more than bring our country one step closer to unbridled laissez-faire capitalism and the merger of corporate and state interests. There is a name for that; itâ€™s fascism.