America’s Future – Money in Politics

This is a companion post to “America’s Future – Continued”. It represents my expanded thoughts about Money In Politics, one of the core existential threats to our democracy that I outlined in that earlier post:

Money In Politics:  Unfortunately, monied interests control much of our federal governance, especially the legislative branch as it relates to national finance and economics. Both of our current political parties have become beholden mostly to the wealthiest Americans because they have the money to influence (in some cases virtually control) who gets elected. And through corporate interests and other legal vehicles, wealthy Americans and even foreign investors effectively dictate much of the tax code to favor themselves; and their lobbyists often ghost-write federal legislation to support those same financial interests. With the Court’s help the wealthy and corporate interests have finally succeeded in even further corrupting our democratic processes for their own political and economic benefit.

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In 2010 the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Citizens United vs Federal Election Commission that the free speech clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting independent expenditures for political campaigns by corporations, other non-human legal entities, as well as Super Political Action Committees (Super-PACs) established and organized by wealthy individuals for the specific purpose of political fundraising and spending.

The concept of corporate rights is based on the idea that corporations and similar legal entities are people within the context of the Constitution. It is certainly true that for social, political, and economic stability a corporate charter must grant protection for certain fundamental legal, business, and property rights. However, corporations as a class of entity exhibit no national loyalty or any of the responsibilities of United States citizenship. They are beholden to their owners who are as likely to be foreign investors with an abiding interest in monopoly and autocracy as much as they might be in American democracy.

The idea of rights of personhood for corporations in the constitutional context is absurd. The founding fathers were quite familiar with the power of corporations to corrupt the political process. They knew that such entities lacked both political and national loyalty, and that they used their enormous economic and political power to promote their own mercantilist interests. In fact the founders were painfully aware that the monopolistic objectives of the British East India Company and its political influence over Parliament and King George III was a proximate cause of the American Revolution itself. It is unthinkable that those same men would have been willing to give corporations freedom under the new Constitution to manipulate democratic governance for their own purposes. Clearly they saw the rights and authority accruing to corporations to be a function of that entity’s charter, not memorialized in the Constitution. But even if they had wanted to protect certain specific rights of corporations within the Constitution they would have documented them. Yet there is not a single mention anywhere in the Constitution of even the word “Corporation”.

But suddenly, with that one Supreme Court ruling in 2010 the entire political campaign finance landscape shifted. Now there are no limits on how much money public and private corporate entities can spend to influence political campaigns. They can spend directly or through Super-PACs, or if they don’t want the public to know who they are or what they are doing they can set up non-profit 501 (C) corporations through which they fund their political activities; those corporate entities are not required to identify the sources of their contributions.

Of course proponents will say that there are other national laws that limit foreign agents’ interference in national elections; and it is true, but that only works if we know who they are. Through these 501(C) corporations and other  “dark money” channels the Federal Government, and we the American public, would not even know if Russian oligarchs, Chinese business entities, or non-state foreign actors are funding campaigns for or against particular candidates. The only legal requirement any of those entities have is that they must not contribute directly to a candidate or coordinate with that candidate’s official campaign. Of course many of the organizers and managers of these Super PACs, non-profits, and LLCs already have long standing business and political relationships with the candidates they are supporting; only fools can believe that there is no coordination.

As a result of all of this, wealthy Americans’ and corporate money has driven the cost of elections beyond the reach of most candidates for national office who must depend on grassroots donations. Generally, only candidates endorsed by the wealthy through these Super-PACs, other political money mechanisms, or are already “bought and paid for” political minions have much chance of election. Sadly, beginning in 2010 these legally corrupt vehicles and strategies have been fully endorsed by the Supreme Court. Unless, or until, we get unlimited money out of the electoral process we will never return to healthy democratic governance.

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