If you’re worried that the latest Supreme Court ruling on political expenditures will make corporations the dominant force in US politics, you’re a little late. Because of peculiarities in our constitution, corporations already reign sovereign in every sphere, and this decision won’t change that.
The case involved a movie vilifying Hillary Clinton. The producers, a corporation, wanted to show it on cable TV during the 2008 election season, but federal law makes it a felony for a corporation (or labor union) to spend money advocating the election or defeat of a candidate within a specified number of days preceding an election. The film couldn’t be shown until after the 2008 election, and so the producers sued the government. Five justices of the Supreme Court agreed with the film-makers and declared the law unconstitutional, overruling a 20-year-old precedent.
Advocates of “limits” on political expenditures are grieving hysterically over this decision. Democrats in Congress (whose main concern is the accumulation of money for re-election) are deriding the ruling as an invitation to corruption, as if they weren’t already up to their necks in corporate money from financiers, insurance companies, and war profiteers of various descriptions. Political correctness seems to demand that members defend their duly enacted laws, even illegal ones, but precious few would support a measure that actually curtailed the right of rich folks–corporate or individual–to influence public policy. Not that an act of Congress would necessarily reverse the court’s decision.
Here’s the problem: the Bill of Rights. It guarantees the rights of individuals to be secure from certain kinds of intrusions on the part of the national government. We can say what we please, print what we please, associate with whomever we please, and enjoy our lives, liberties and properties subject to due process of law. We can do these things individually or in groups. A corporation is a group of individuals, as courts have found time and again. If the provision challenged in the lawsuit were allowed to stand, the opinion tells us, the following acts would all be felonies:
- The Sierra Club runs an ad, within the crucial phase of 60 days before the general election, that exhorts the public to disapprove of a Congressman who favors logging in national forests;
- The National Rifle Association publishes a book urging the public to vote for the challenger because the incumbent U. S. Senator supports a handgun ban;
- The American Civil Liberties Union creates a Web site telling the public to vote for a Presidential candidate in light of that candidate’s defense of free speech.
The decision does not, as some are saying, allow corporations to pour money into political campaign treasuries, and it continues to require that political messages like the Clinton film disclose the names of the sponsors. Corporations that want to give money directly to political candidates have always been able to do so through political action committees, and this ruling doesn’t change that. The bribery of public officials by the “haves” at the expense of the “have-nots” will continue normally.
The court took passing notice of the obvious fact that the speech of an aggregate of people will always be louder than the speech of an individual. When a corporation (or any other association) speaks over an individual, the individual’s right to speak is curtailed. It’s an infirmity (or a strength) of our constitution, and it requires us to band together to be heard, as is our right. We also have the right to teach ourselves and our children how to resist political advertising (along with other forms of mind-control), something we’ve never even tried to do. As long as we act like livestock, we’ll be bought and sold like livestock.
Realistic legal observers like Ralph Nader understand that we need to amend our constitution if we want to rein in the corporate state and reverse this decision. Constitutional freedoms should be reserved for those who bear legal and moral responsibility for their acts and obligations–the people–and curtailed for those that accumulate vast treasuries to exploit and oppress without personal accountability. A constitutional amendment might even provide for capital punishment of felonious conduct, requiring the confiscation or dissolution and liquidation of organizations whose misdeeds cause widespread human suffering.
Don’t be conned when Barack Obama and NPR tell you that we have to keep the current system afloat at all costs. If these sophists have their way, your meager allotment of legal rights will be degraded further, consolidating the power of the tiny minority that owns this system. A class war is under way, the people are losing, and the laws are powerless to help. Only a mass movement to radical change can restore our damaged republic.