By Lillie Baker - Democrat
On January 21, 2010, five conservative Justices of the United States Supreme Court made one of the worst decisions of the Court’s history. They allowed elections to be bought by the highest bidder. This may be remembered as the day democracy died in America.
The flow of money, the disclosure of contributors, and the use of funds in elections had been controlled by nearly sixty years of laws that have created fair use of funds and created transparency. These laws include Austin v Michigan Chamber of Commerce (1990), which prohibited corporations from using treasury money to support or oppose candidates in elections. The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (also known as the McCain-Feingold Act) which restricted independent political expenditures by corporations and unions. Other laws used to regulate election finance that were overturned or altered were Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, and the Federal Election Campaign Act Amendment of 1971.
When it was all over, five conservative Justices of the US Supreme Court (the majority 5-4), found the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 prohibition of all independent expenditures by corporations and unions violated the First Amendment’s protection of free speech, giving personhood status to corporations. The Supreme Court went further and effectively freed corporations and unions to spend money both on "electioneering and communications" and directly advocate for the election or defeat of candidates but only through outside special interest groups. Simply put, they allowed corporations to use foreign and domestic funds from their treasury to be donated without public disclosure to special interest PAC’s for the purpose of persuading voters and influencing elections.
How does that kill democracy? First, as long as a perception exists that laws are being bought and sold, democracy can not function effectively. Most people now view corporate expenditures as a method used to gain unfair legislative access. Once the public believes that corporations dominate elections, disaffected voters will stop participating in the system. This was a deliberate action of activist justices to change the law to favor certain groups.
Second, corporations gain favorable political access to the political process. They have their lobbyist write the laws and now they will purchase their legislators to vote them into law. This creates corruption in the legislative process and the individual rights in which we believe so strongly will be lost. Corporations could threaten elective officials at all levels with negative advertising to gain unprecedented leverage to stack legislative offices and judicial offices with people of their choice and view.
How could the Supreme Court possibly reach the decision corporations should have personhood? Corporations are not people. They are a legal entity. The unique qualities of corporations and other artificial legal entities make them dangerous to the democratic elections. These legal entities have perpetual life, the ability to amass large sums of money, limited liability (and a lot more limited if they are making the laws), no ability to vote, no morality, no purpose outside of profit-making, and no loyalty.
"We the People" for whom our Constitution was established does not include legal entities. Individuals should be given protection under the First Amendment. It protects individual self-expression, self-realization and the communication of ideas. Corporate spending on politics should be viewed as a business transaction designed by the officers or board of directors for no other purpose than to profit-making.
Third, unfair influence by vast sums of money by corporations that few individuals can match will distort the public debate. It will marginalize the speech of other individuals and groups, giving the impression of widespread support by disproportionate focus on ads by the corporations.
There is another element of this ruling that affects everyone of us who has money in stocks, 401K’s or pension funds. Because the corporations can invest from it treasury, using stockholders money, it can reduce the return on the profits of the company and the share of the stock. The money will be used to support legislature one may not support or candidates one may not agree with, while diminishing the return on profits. The individual will have no say in how the corporation uses the money or who or what it is spent on politically. As an individual I should not be forced to support candidates or laws that are not in my best interest. (That puts a whole new spin on privatizing Social Security, doesn’t it?)
If you think for one minute, corporations are going to have your best interest in mind when they are influencing the laws and selecting the elective officials, think again. If you care about breathing clean air, drinking unpolluted water, working in a safe work place at a fair and livable salary; if you are interested in voting rights of all the people, or want to protect your social security because that is all you have to live on when you are too old to work, you need to pray, and pray hard that this ruling gets overturned. Corporations exist to make money. There is nothing wrong with that. But they should not be allowed to buy elections. They should not destroy our democracy
We, as American citizens, have to agree with President Obama when he gave his State of the Union Speech and said this was a terrible decision and needed to be overturned. Short of that, be thankful you knew what democracy felt like because you will living in a plutocracy.
By Michael B. Innis - Republican
The effect of massive amounts of money being injected into the electoral process by corporations, unions and individuals is most hurtful to both the process, and to we, the people here in the United States. The donations of large dollar amounts of support always come with many strings attached. Obviously, the expectation of the donors is to receive something in return for their money: a special deal; an inside track on a bid; favorable consideration during the legislative process; a job in the government hierarchy. With that expectation there, and if the person(s) getting the donation do not deliver, the threat of the withdrawal of financial support during the next election cycle is very real. Campaign finance reforms are sorely needed.
The elected officials in Washington, DC spend an inordinate amount of time and effort in raising funds for their next run for office. Some of them say that fully half their time is spent dealing with this issue of getting enough money in their "war chest" to mount an effective campaign. As a result, the time they can devote to their real job, that of creating laws for the benefit and protection of their constituency, is greatly diminished.
The problem begins with the evolution of the "professional congressperson." Men and women, in House and Senate positions, who have been in those positions for 15-20-30+ years! Many of them have never had a "real" job in the private sector. They live inside a bubble of protection that’s not available to their constituency. They don’t ever need to worry about Social Security, medical care, or retirement income. And yet they make the laws and create controls and restrictions that are imposed upon us. It is not only grossly unfair, it is not at all what the Founding Fathers had in mind.
The Founders envisioned "citizen Congressional representatives;" folks who worked in the real world, that had a business, ran a ranch or a farm. These folks would run for office, and if elected, go to DC for a couple of terms, and then return to their homes. In this way, there would always be a flow of fresh ideas coming into the law making process, and even more importantly, the influence of special interest groups could do little to compromise the clear thinking of the elected officials in those short tours of duty.
In an attempt to get campaign finance activity under some semblance of control, a bill was passed: The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. The Act was fatally flawed, but it was, at least, a step toward reform. Fundamentally, the Act was in violation of the First Amendment and it criminalized free speech! The Supreme Court weighed in and declared (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission), that corporations and unions cannot constitutionally be prohibited from promoting the election of one candidate over another. (Interestingly enough, in a poll conducted shortly after the announcement of the Court’s decision, 85% of the Democrats opposed the ruling; 76% of the Republicans opposed it; and 81% of the Independent!) This ruling opened the floodgates that allowed these entities (corporations and unions) to literally drown the electoral process with as much money as they could muster from their companies or wring from their membership.
The Republican Party feels that what is left of the BCRA, sometimes known as "McCain-Feingold," should be repealed, and another, more carefully considered, bipartisan approach should be considered. At the current time, there is no consensus on exactly what should be promulgated in this new Act, but there are several ideas under consideration.
1) Any US Citizen can give as much money as they wish to any politician of their choice, up to the limit suggested in #2, below.
2) No candidate may spend more of their own money in excess of the average American annual income from the preceding year
3) Any donations made to any federal candidate must be reported online within 24 hours of that donation.
4) Donations cannot be accepted from any foreign (non-U.S., with non-U.S. being defined as a company that does not pay its taxes to the U.S. IRS) company.
5) Donations by a certified U.S. company cannot exceed a fixed amount, agreed to by a bipartisan committee.
6) Donations by unions should fall under the same guidelines as those used by U.S. companies.
7) Donations by PACs and SuperPACs cannot exceed a fixed amount, agreed to by the bipartisan committee that create the new Act..
8) Donations cannot be accepted from any person who is not a U. S. citizen.
9) Donations should be deposited into a single fund managed by the Federal Election Commission, which will enforce the regulations detailed in the new Act.
Many other suggestions will be forthcoming, but both Parties agree that some definitive, bipartisan, actionable regulations must be put in place, and the efforts to do so must take high priority. The fact that a person must be a millionaire, or be sponsored by millionaires, to become an elected official in this country is unacceptable, and does not serve the country or its citizens well.