What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
photo credit: Ned Vizzini
The U.S. Supreme Court recently announced a ruling which has been divisive both among the justices of the Court and the people at large. In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Court determined in a 5-4 vote that corporations could independently spend money to support or oppose a candidate for a federal office.
Citizens United is a conservative nonprofit organization which wanted to run TV commercials promoting its documentary “Hillary: The Movie” which was critical of then-Senator Clinton. Additionally, they desired to broadcast the film just before the election. Both of these actions ran contrary to the onerous restrictions imposed by the notoriously anti-free-speech McCain-Feingold bill. After the appellate process, the case made its way to the Supreme Court, where the divided justices ruled in favor of Citizens United, overturning the previous restrictions on corporations to independently promote election-related information.
For all of the fuss being made by those who both support and oppose the Court’s ruling, few people have bothered to address the underlying forces at work to determine why all of this is even an issue to begin with.
Why do corporations want to become involved in politics? Why does a for-profit entity feel the need to spend its tightly-controlled resources on a political candidate? Why do elections matter to CEOs and shareholders?
Elections are, of course, the process through which individuals are placed into a political office which has a certain amount of authority. As such, the spending of a corporation to support or oppose a candidate is an attempt to ensure that their preferred individual obtains that office, ostensibly to secure a preferable outcome for their business in some aspect.
To understand the reasons behind this action, though, it is important to analyze the subsequent part of a corporation’s political activity. Current elected officials are very often courted by lobbyists who are simply paid corporate liaisons. Lobbyists have one fundamental objective above all others: ensure that legislation is passed that is favorable to their employer’s operations.
All of this political involvement by for-profit corporations is merely a symptom of what is the underlying disease: corporatism.
Corporatism is, much like the word sounds, the domination of the political process by corporations. Put more simply, it is an effort by companies to try and use the legislative process to see laws enacted that will help them be profitable. Opponents of the Court’s recent ruling are angry and worried that the proverbial flood gates will now be opened for corporations to essentially buy candidates. Witness one Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21:
Today’s Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case is a disaster for the American people and a dark day for the Supreme Court.
The decision will unleash unprecedented amounts of corporate “influence-seeking” money on our elections and create unprecedented opportunities for corporate “influence-buying” corruption.
However, what the opponents of the Court’s ruling fail to understand is that it is corporatism in the first place that impels companies to get involved in the process. When government spending becomes a game whereby influential lobbyists can court politicians and obtain for their employers favorable subsidies, regulations, tariffs, and other economic interventions, it only makes sense that a company who wishes to succeed would participate.
Thus, corporate influence is not the effect of the Court’s ruling, but rather is the cause. Our problem is not companies participating in the political process—after all, companies are merely a group of individuals who each retain their right to free speech, and can collectively exercise that right—but rather the tolerance by every American of elected individuals abusing their authority of office and exceeding the limits placed upon them by the Constitution and the oath they swore to support and defend it.
Misguided reactions are now springing up as a result of the Court’s ruling, such as Lawrence Lessig’s push for the Fair Elections Now Act which would effectively neuter political free speech altogether—one’s donation of personal money (a representation of their time and actions) most definitely being a form of speech and support. These and related efforts miss the point altogether and instead try to advocate for further regulation and restrictions on one’s ability to support his or her preferred candidate. These propositions will not fix the underlying problem, and thus corporatism will continue as it has for so long.
So, what’s the answer? More regulation, or less?
As always, the answer lies with the American people, and their desire (or lack thereof) to clean house and elect only those individuals who will refrain from approving legislation that favors one group of people over another. The responsibility is ours, while using the free speech that the Court has with this ruling protected, to work tirelessly to ensure that those who are voted into office have the will to do what’s right for the Republic, not what’s right for a for-profit entity.