It all started with a movie called “Hillary the Movie” made by staunch opponents of Hilary Clinton when she was running for the Whitehouse. The movie was to be a political documentary, however, the opponent of the movie argued that it was a political ad sponsored by the corporation, as such violating the campaign law.
The lawsuit was filed and movie was never shown in the commercial theatres, but instead was played for judges in various court rooms. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States. The Supreme Court decided to hear the case and after hearing the arguments and just 2 days before rendering their decision the Supreme Court on its own initiatives asked the parties to re-argue the case for a broader question which was whether the corporations could use their financial means to express their views. This was a very rare move, that is for the Supreme Court reshape the argument and instruct the parties to re-argue a case which they did not bring to the court and were not thinking of arguing it. Generally speaking when the Supreme Court makes a decision, they always address specific issues, but not in this case. The Supreme Court went for the Jugular.
On Thursday January 22, 2010, the Supreme Court submitted its decision which was five to four, a narrow margin in favor of the Corporations. They gave unfetter and unrestricted freedom to the corporations and labor unions the rights to spend as much money as they wish in any political campaign in support or opposition of a political candidate or an issue on the ballot. They majority argued that corporations have the same right to participate in the political process and exercise the same level of freedom of speech which is afforded to the individuals.
Many arguments are made by advocates and opponents of this decision, but it is fair to say that most of the arguments are against this decision. Most of Democrats, some Republicans and many intellectuals and legal experts have voiced their opposition to this decision, while there are some Republicans and pro-business organization hailing this decision.
The Supreme Court erred in the following manner;
- Corporations are not natural persons, that is they do not live and act like a human being. Corporations are artificially created by the states under their laws to conduct and operate businesses. The Supreme Court treated the corporations like human beings. The corporations should not be treated like human beings, because they do not live and die like human beings. Corporations live forever, unless dissolved by operation of law. In the past few days some of the proponents of this decision have argued that corporations are made by a group of people gathering together like any other associations. This argument cannot be farther that truth. The purpose of creating corporations was not to bring a group of people with similar views and goals together. Freedom of association does not and should not apply to the corporations. The shareholders of the corporations did get together with a common political and social ideology such as the members of NRA or Sierra Club. In fact the shareholders of the corporations come together with vast different political and social views. Some of them are hard core Republicans, some are hard core Democrats and many may be independent and so on. Each shareholder assuming he/she is US citizen can vote on his/her favorite candidate and support or oppose the issues on the ballot; they do not need the corporations to make the decision for them.
- The financial powers of the corporations are by far superior to those of the individuals. Corporations could write a check for as much they deem necessary, while individuals do not have such financial powers. It has been argued by the proponents that the individuals could also promote their views and support their candidates, so they should not be concerned with the power of the corporate purse. The fallacy in this argument is that once the corporations decide to promote a particular candidate or an issue, they could buy up all the advertisement spots on the local media and leave no room for the other candidate to buy up air time and in effect chock their voice. This would be very much true in small towns where the number of medium is few and limited. In the last election cycle the top 100 businesses in the US made over $600 Billion in profit, while collectively $3 Billion was spent on the political campaign which is one percent of the profit made by the top 100 corporation during the same period.
- Political intimidation could alter the views. All corporations have to do is to unseat couple of the Senators and or House Representatives so to send the message to the other members of the Congress. Given that many of the members of the Congress put their professional interests ahead of their duties under the Constitution and the promise that they made to their constituents, they would be easily intimidated and would back off on the issues important to the corporations out of fear of being unseated.
- Judicial intervention and control, in many states some judges are elected by the people, corporations could use their financial might to put pro business judges in the courts whereby the rights of the masses would be jeopardized in favor of the corporations. Imagine you have a product liability case being heard by a judge who was put in the office by the financial powers of the corporations. Is that judge going to render a fair decision? It seems unlikely.
- Foreign corporations and nationals intervention, this decision does not distinguish between the foreign and domestic corporations; therefore foreign corporations could influence political process and the outcome in this country. It is mighty dangerous thoughts.
Remedies: In order to defuse this decision the Congress could take any of the following actions;
- Try to amend the constitution to bar corporate funding. This is difficult to achieve as two third of the Congress and three fourth of the States must pass the amendment in order to become law.
- Pass a law that if the Corporations are funding more than $10,000 for a political candidate or for an issue, then they should receive the approval of the simple majority of the shareholders.
- Pass a law so the media allow equal time for the opponents to air their views or the opposing candidate to run his/her ads.
- Pass a law to prohibit the corporations to buy most of the prime time ads for their candidate or the issue they support, so the opposing candidates and the opponent of the issue could also run their ads during the prime time.
- Pass a law to ban any foreign corporation form donating any amount to any candidate’s campaign or in support or oppositions of an issue.
- Pass a law that the candidate and the issues being supported or attacked by the corporations to fully disclose the source of their support and donations.
Although the decision of the Supreme Court also affects the labor unions, but it is the Corporations who would cause much havoc and interference in the democratic process, as the labor union never have the financial power that the corporations have. In any case all above mentioned remedies should also apply to the labor union. Election means decisions made by the citizens of the country, not by corporations, associations, unions, etc. Failure to take immediate and meaningful actions would certainly lead to death of our democracy.