In all the noise over healthcare reform and the election in Massachusetts, you might not have noticed that democracy took a gut punch yesterday, as the Supreme Court ruled that corporations can give unlimited amounts of money to political campaigns, candidates, and parties. They can do this directly, from their own general fund, without the permission of their shareholders. If elections weren't corrupt, money-driven, and anti-democratic before (and they were), they sure will be now. SCOTUS put a big "For Sale" sign on every district in the United States.
See, corporations are people too. The fact that they obviously aren't is beside the point -- an idiotic and absurd legal fiction is super-important because... Well, because. I challenge anyone out there to come up with just one way this ruling will help the average, ordinary citizen -- and if you say "jobs," I swear I'll come over there and hit you. You might not have noticed, but corporations are taking jobs out of America. The only jobs that will be created by this are more lobbyists, more "tea party"-style corporate front group organizers, and more people creating smear ads against candidates the corporations don't like. And let's not forget that the Bush years and their ultimate financial collapse were the result of eight years of de facto corporate rule. In short, this won't help you in any way.
For the majority of the court, corporations -- as people -- were an oppressed minority. Put down by the man in the form of what Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, called a "ban on political speech" which amounted to censorship. Sure, corporations enjoy special advantages such as "limited liability, perpetual life, and favorable treatment of the accumulation and distribution of assets," but that's just a minority superpower -- like being well-dressed if you're gay -- and we shouldn't hold that against them, because that'd be anti-corporate-person bigotry or something. These are nice advantages, but we shouldn't hold it against them. Wrote Kennedy, "[T]he State cannot exact as the price of those special advantages the forfeiture of First Amendment rights." Why should we hold it against them that they're immortal? And not actually people? It's just the way they were born -- except, of course, they were never born.
"The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves," Kennedy wrote, adding that "when Government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought." Remember, that logo on that letterhead is a person -- and don't you forget it...
I'm reminded of an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, where an all-powerful being named Q finds himself stripped of all his powers as a punishment by his people. Q has been rendered human, although the crew believes this is a trick.
Q: I have no powers. Q the ordinary.
PICARD: Q the liar. Q the misanthrope.
Q: Q the miserable. Q the desperate. What must I do to convince you people...
And that's my take on corporate personhood. I'll think it's not the stupidest damned thing I've ever heard when I see a corporation -- say, Nike -- laying in a coffin in a funeral home.
For their part, Democrats are livid. In a statement, Sen. Russ Feingold had this to say:
It is important to note that the decision does not affect McCain-Feingold’s soft money ban, which will continue to prevent corporate contributions to the political parties from corrupting the political process. But this decision was a terrible mistake. Presented with a relatively narrow legal issue, the Supreme Court chose to roll back laws that have limited the role of corporate money in federal elections since Teddy Roosevelt was president. Ignoring important principles of judicial restraint and respect for precedent, the Court has given corporate money a breathtaking new role in federal campaigns. Just six years ago, the Court said that the prohibition on corporations and unions dipping into their treasuries to influence campaigns was "firmly embedded in our law." Yet this Court has just upended that prohibition, and a century's worth of campaign finance law designed to stem corruption in government. The American people will pay dearly for this decision when, more than ever, their voices are drowned out by corporate spending in our federal elections. In the coming weeks, I will work with my colleagues to pass legislation restoring as many of the critical restraints on corporate control of our elections as possible.
Reports are that they're banging out legislation to counter this, but in the meantime we're going to have to live with this awful, stupid, asburdist ruling.
We should go with a constitutional amendment that strips corporations of this idiotic pretense of "personhood," but that seems unlikely. But clearly we have to do something. The influence of big money already threatens our democracy and this ruling, unchecked, would pretty much destroy it.
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