In a stunning setback to republican democracy, the Supreme Court last week essentially placed a “for sale” sign on the American electoral system.
The 5-4 majority ruling in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission ruled that a corporation may spend an unlimited amount of money to campaign for any candidate or issue. The court ruling, by some twisted logic, equated any corporation operating in America to an individual American citizen. Notice that I said any corporation. That means a Chinese, Russian, Saudi Arabian or any other foreign corporation having a subsidiary in the United States can use any amount of money it chooses to influence an election.
The average amount of money spent on a Senate race, according to the latest figures, is about $12 million. That includes candidates from both sides. In practice that means that $1.2 billion is enough to buy all 100 members of the Senate in six years. Can you imagine that Exxon-Mobil couldn’t easily double that number, or triple or quadruple it, if they wished. Or how about Citgo, the Venezuelan oil company (controlled by Hugo Chavez) or Total, the French oil company? Or maybe just a shell Saudi company set up to buy our government? Any of those could spend five, ten, or more billions to swing all Senate races and never miss the money. If you thought our Congress was bought and paid for by corporations before, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
At this point, the Republicans (including the former campaign finance crusader John McCain) think this is just fine. According to them it’s a great step forward for the First Amendment right of free speech. I guess you do, too, if you are in the pocket of big banks and oil or pharmaceutical companies. And the Democrats are pretty quiet, too, for the most part because…well, they also get lots of money from the corporations and, guess what? The ruling also lets unions spend an unlimited amount to campaign for their favorites.
Think this ruling will improve the chance of your free speech being heard by a candidate whose ears are owned by a billionaire corporation?