Why do I say this is the “most important under-reported story in American politics?” Because the consequence of the pending Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission could be to overturn more than a century of settled law establishing limits on corporate spending in political campaigns.
This would constitute a profound and disastrous change in our political culture. If you don’t believe this, read on.
As Jeff Clements writes in his amicus brief for this case …
In the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, No. 08-205, the Supreme Court is weighing whether free speech protections under the First Amendment prevent Congress from restricting corporate political campaign expenditures. The Court is considering overturning federal campaign regulations for corporations that were first enacted in 1907, and may soon overrule Supreme Court cases decided in 1990 and 2003 that agreed restrictions on corporate money in politics do not violate the Constitution.
Should we really be concerned about this? How much money is involved anyway? Well, the answer to that is mind-boggling. In the following video John Bonifaz, introducing the subject to a public forum in Northampton, Massachusetts, says:
“The top Fortune 100 companies would now be able to participate using their general treasury funds in the political process. What would that mean?
Well, last year — in this last 2008 cycle — political parties spent a total of 1.5 billion dollars. And political action committees — which are of course committees formed by individuals that want to put some money in — some small some large (corporate PACs exist as well as union PACs and so forth) — these political action committees spent 1.2 billion dollars combined.
What about the Fortune 100 companies? How much money did they make in profits in the last year? 600 billion dollars.”
The magnitude of these dollar amounts should wake you to the threat. The power of corporate money over Congress in the current healthcare debate will seem as nothing compared to the influence of the ocean of money that will flood our political landscape if the Supreme Court makes the wrong decision in this case.
The following two videos of the Northampton public forum (on the day before the Supreme Court heard oral arguments) gives a good overview of the threat. I’ve found it more instructive to reverse their order of presentation, because Bonifaz gives the broader overview:
Why are corporations allowed to play in the realm of politics anyway? The answer, surprisingly, is that this is just the current plot twist in the centuries-old story of the growing power of corporations in our body politic. Over these centuries, corporations have succeeded in arrogating to themselves more and more of the rights granted in the Constitution to natural-born persons.
In the following 2007 video, Thomas Linzey and Richard Grossman talk about this history:
Here are some additional resources on the subject:
ReclaimDemocracy.Org (corporate personhood)
The Rights of Corporations (NY Times Editorial)