Saturday, January 1, 2011

Citizens United

Nearly a year ago last January, in an astonishing turnabout from its decades-long stance on corporations and campaign financing, the Supreme Court abolished 103 years of settled law and handed the keys of our government to multinational corporations. Although the repercussions of this decision are unthinkable, the ripple outward effect began with a bang in this past November's midterm elections.

In a 5-4 decision split along bitter, partisan lines, Justice Roberts and his colleagues let their free-market, right-wing ideology blur their thinking on the necessities of a democracy, profoundly turning their backs on our founders’ attempts to build a successful and lasting representative form of governance. The founding fathers went to great lengths to protect citizens and the government through creating a Republic designed to prevent both minority and majority tyranny. Yet Justices Roberts, Alito, Kennedy, Scalia and Thomas sounded the death knell for any semblance we have of a representative democracy, blatantly tilting the playing field in the favor of big business and minority tyranny. In response to this madness, President Obama stated:

"The Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics. 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."

The Obama administration's response was the "Disclose Act", last June. But although the Act passed in the House, it stalled in the Senate this past fall, and is not likely to see the light of day any time soon.

So what did this SCOTUS decision mean for the midterm congressional elections this past November? An election spending goldrush, where Republicans outspent Democrats 5 to 1. Sweeping election victories, where 1/4 of the funding sources were not required to be disclosed.

And what does it mean for the future, as strategists get their wits about them and learn how to fully leverage these anonymous monies? It means that Sarah Palin has a real shot at the US presidency. Why? Because any politicians who dare to campaign on a platform that threatens the interests of big business -- such as banking regulations and credit card company reforms, health care reform, clean energy or environmental standards -- can look forward to an unstoppable juggernaut of ads designed to smear and defeat newcomers and incumbents alike.

Moreover, since multinational corporations do not have to be American "citizens" (just corporate persons endowed with the right to free speech), these conservative Supreme Court justices have opened the door to foreign interests having the ability to influence the outcomes of US political campaigns. In the face of the implications this activist move, it is difficult to know whether to feel dumbfounded or terrified.

Last January, SCOTUS settled on a singularly anti-democratic decision, and the entire playing field of politics has been transformed. There is no limit on the ante that can be set, for this new game. And only those with billions of dollars in resources can hope to compete at all in an attempt to level the playing field.

When the Supreme Court abolished a set of rules designed to help ensure that regular Americans have a say in who their representatives will be, it transformed the Amerian landscape. It is now most assurredly business, not citizens, who have the power to create the conversation, control the conversation, and shape its outcome. Get ready for a kind of minority, corporate tyranny that has thus far been fettered by at least some attempt at maintaining fairness and access in our democracy.

"The court’s ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions around the nation,” Justice John Paul Stevens lamented after the Citizens United decision.

November's midterm elections function as a stark reminder of the power to influence our political process for ill. Now, with enough money, you can create reality, override rationality, evoke goblins, and own our democracy.

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