Local Commentaries
2:23 pm
Wed September 30, 2009

Bill Knight - October 1

Macomb, IL – Lawyers were given a month to file arguments in a U.S. Supreme Court case that could make corporate rule more prevalent than ever.

Corporations already are influential, of course. The insurance industry alone spent $46 million during the 2008 election cycle, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Pharmaceuticals spent $29 million; commercial banks spent $37 million.

Without limits, corporations could spend more - and get much more powerful.

The case is Citizens United (CU) v. the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The dispute concerns a pseudo-documentary, "Hillary: The Movie," which offers conservatives a pretext for the reconsideration of previous rulings and even the bipartisan McCain-Feingold Act - under the guise of ensuring corporations' First Amendment rights of free speech.

The FEC ruled that the "movie" and related ads planned for TV during the primary season were "electioneering communications," and therefore prohibited. CU appealed and the Supreme Court heard arguments in March. Now the Court's conservatives want to flex their muscles while they can and hear it again.

The Supreme Court's conservative plurality - Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Chief Justice John Roberts - are the real "judicial activists," threatening to overturn centuries of U.S. laws and court precedents to further the goals of their patrons in Big Business.

Jim Hightower, author of "Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go with the Flow," says, "In his four years as chief, Roberts has consistently, unabashedly, and rather ruthlessly championed the corporate position over aggrieved workers, the environment, taxpayers and others. Along the way, he has not been hesitant to make law from the bench. Now comes a coup attempt by the Roberts Court -- an unprecedented effort to bestow upon corporations a First Amendment free-speech right' that would let them open their coffers and swamp all of our elections with unlimited infusions of corporate funds into ads to elect or defeat candidates."

Arguably, labor unions also could spend more without regard to current limits. However, Big Business' funds dwarf the resources of organizations of mass constituencies, whether unions, consumer groups, civil-rights organizations, or churches.

Paul Ryan, an attorney for the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, said, "The average person should be concerned that a Court decision striking down the ban on business corporations' political expenditures will result in a flood of corporate money into the electoral arena that will drown the average person's political speech."

The U.S. Constitution is silent about corporations - although Founder Thomas Jefferson in an 1816 letter to George Logan said, "I hope we shall ... crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations."

But gradually, corporations gained designations as the equivalents of human beings. Corporations are not citizens, naturally, but artificial constructs that can use massive amounts of others' money - money legally owned by shareholders (who are citizens and can contribute campaign funds as individuals or members of groups). Besides using others' money, corporations are anti-democratic, using power according to executives and managers' wishes, not as shareholders might vote.

Until the mid 19th century, it was difficult to incorporate, and corporations' participation in politics was mostly prohibited. Republican President Teddy Roosevelt in his 1905 State of the Union address held the line, saying, "All contributions by corporations to any political committee or for any political purpose should be forbidden by law; directors should not be permitted to use stockholders' money for such purposes; and, moreover, a prohibition of this kind would be, as far as it went, an effective method of stopping the evils aimed at in corrupt practices acts."

Hightower adds, "The five justices are trying to replace the will of Congress and the will of the people with their own - even as they trample on the Court's own clear precedents. There's nothing conservative' about this."

Excusing the threatened de-regulation by pointing out unions' ability to also spend more is ridiculous, of course. A bulldozer and a bullfrog may face off on a level playing field, but their power is different. There's no contest.