Supreme Court's 'Radical and Destructive' Decision Hands Over Democracy to the Corporations
"The Supreme Court has just predicted the winners of the next November election," Sen. Chuck Schumer announced this morning. "It won't be Republicans. It won't be Democrats. It will be Corporate America."
Indeed, in a momentous 5 to 4 decision the New York Times called a "doctrinal earthquake," the U.S. Supreme Court handed down an unprecedented ruling today that gives new significance to the phrase "corporate personhood." In it, the Roberts court overturned the federal ban on corporate contributions to political campaigns, ruling that forbidding corporations from spending money to support or undermine political candidates amounts to censorship. Corporations, the court ruled, should enjoy the same First Amendment rights as individuals.
Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the Supreme Court rejects "the argument that political speech of corporations or other associations should be treated differently under the First Amendment simply because such associations are not 'natural persons.'"
In other words, as Stephen Colbert put it last year, "Corporations are people too."
On a conference call with reporters following the decision, critics could not overemphasize the enormity of the ruling, whose implications will be visible as early as the upcoming midterm elections. Bob Edgar, head of the watchdog group Common Cause, called it "the Superbowl of really bad decisions." Nick Nyhart of Public Campaign called it an "immoral decision" that will make an already untenable mix of money and politics even worse.
"This is the most radical and destructive campaign finance decision in the history of the Supreme Court," said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21. "With a stroke of the pen, five justices wiped out a century of American history devoted to preventing corporate corruption of our democracy."
Writing about the ruling, Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy described it as "a revolution in the law," one that has been in the works for years thanks to conservative activism.
"Today's decision is a huge gift to corporations from a Supreme Court that has been radicalized by right-wing ideology, whose political agenda was made obvious in the Bush v. Gore case and whose very political decision today only makes things worse."
Of course, corporate cash has long had a corrupting influence on our politics, but never before has it been seen as some sort of fundamental freedom.
"This court has said it's the constitutional right of a corporation to spend as much money as it wants to influence an election," said Wertheimer.
The potential "fear factor" for politicians when it comes to the way they vote is huge. Members of Congress, who already spend a disproportionate amount of time fundraising to stay in office, now have reason to worry that their re-election chances will be derailed by corporations whose limitless funds can be aggressively used to protect their interests.
Writing for AlterNet last month, Greg Palast, author of The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, argued that President Obama might never have been elected with these new rules on the books:
Candidate Barack Obama was one sharp speaker, but he would not have been heard, and certainly would not have won, without the astonishing outpouring of donations from two million Americans. It was an unprecedented uprising-by-PayPal, overwhelming the old fat-cat sources of funding.
Well, kiss that small-donor revolution goodbye. If the Supreme Court votes as expected, progressive list serves won't stand a chance against the resources of new 'citizens' such as CNOOC, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation. Maybe UBS (United Bank of Switzerland), which faces U.S. criminal prosecution and a billion-dollar fine for fraud, might be tempted to invest in a few Senate seats."
The case before the court, Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, centered around a rabidly anti-Hillary Clinton documentary produced by the right-wing group Citizens United. In a statement, Citizens United called the ruling "a tremendous victory, not only for Citizens United but for every American who desires to participate in the political process."
Meanwhile, President Obama, whose critics on the left have accused him of being beholden to Wall Street, has called upon Congress to "develop a forceful response to this decision."
"With its ruling today," he said, "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."