Bye-Bye Democracy: Corporate America Gains Even More Power
“Supreme Court Rolls Back Campaign Finance Restrictions”
Last week the US Supreme Court made a decision which seems set to increase the power of corporate America over the nation’s already troubled political system: voting 5 Justices to 4 to LESSEN the restrictions on corporate donations to federal political campaigns. In a system where spending on advertising already often decides a political contest, this judgement opens the way for a wave of corporate-funded ‘attack ads’ in this year’s congressional elections.
US President Barak Obama, who – while certainly not being a Bolshevik – has an agenda of challenging corporate power and introducing such ‘radical’ measures as public health care, has criticised the decision, declaring: “I can’t think of anything more devastating to the public interest … The last thing we need to do is hand more influence to the lobbyists in Washington or more power to the special interests to tip the outcome of elections”. Corporate donations in the up-coming elections could help to end the Democratic Party’s majority in the Congress, and thus put an end to Obama’s reformist legislative programme.
Explaining the decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that, “Because speech is an essential mechanism of democracy — it is the means to hold officials accountable to the people — political speech must prevail against laws that would suppress it by design or inadvertence”. Which all sounds perfect reasonable, except that it is justifying the large-scale, systematised bribery of public officials by sociopathic corporations (and I use that as a technical, analytical term – i.e. “Unconcerned about the adverse consequences for others of one’s actions”).
Unsurprisingly representatives of the Republican Party have been chief in praising the decision, precisely because, as Obama asserted in a statement: “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…”. Leading advocate of campaign finance reform, Fred Wertheimer, says that:
“The Supreme Court majority has acted recklessly to free up corporations to use their immense, aggregate corporate wealth to flood federal elections and buy government influence. The Fortune 100 companies alone had combined revenues of $13 trillion and profits of $605 billion during the last election cycle … Under today’s decision, insurance companies, banks, drug companies, energy companies and the like will be free to each spend $5 million, $10 million or more of corporate funds to elect or defeat a federal candidate — and thereby to buy influence over the candidate’s positions on issues of economic importance to the companies”.
The Supreme Court ruled that a corporation’s right to free speech is denied when they cannot engage in political speech, basically dismissing arguments that corporations should not have the rights of individuals. It will now be extremely difficult for the government to pass legislation limiting political donations without it being declared unconstitutional. In the wake of the global economic crisis, it has become self-evident to many people that unrestrained corporate power is socially-destructive; and digging deeper, it becomes clear that events like the Iraq War were also all about the merger of interests of the highest levels of American politics, oil companies and the military-industrial complex. As an observer from across the seas, it seems clear that this decision will only be detrimental to US society, further erode their claims to international moral and ideological leadership, and thus decrease their ‘soft power’ in an age when their economic and political hegemony is already under siege.