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Years ago, when I was in a quandary about the direction of my career, I got some sound advice: Never fall in love with a corporation, because it?s constitutionally unable to reciprocate.
This week, the Supreme Court created a limited redress to that issue in Citizens United v the Federal Elections Commission, giving corporations unfettered permission to spend their general funds on the campaigns of politicians they favor, and turning them into ?a real live boy? as Slate put it. Who says money can?t buy you love? If the Rehnquist court handed Republicans the presidency in 2000, it?s hard to believe the Roberts court hasn?t handed them the Congress in 2010.
(The prevailing arguments are full of sophistry. Citizens United claims to be a non-profit, non-partisan educational foundation with the goal of restoration of government to its citizens. You don?t get a whiff of corporate support from its website citizensunited.org, and it?s difficult to determine who funds it, certainly there are no fingerprints of the health care, energy and financial companies who will benefit most from this decision. CU president David Bossie was accused on CBS News of harassing the family of an Arkansas woman to claim that she committed suicide because of an affair she had with Bill Clinton, and its other campaigns have been aimed at people like George Soros and John Kerry and the film Fahrenheit 911. At the heart of this decision was a film Citizens United made about Hillary Clinton that it wanted to air on television during the Democratic primary and which was ruled in violation of McCain-Feingold regulations. John McCain seems to be the only Republican with which the organization takes issue. He filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of the FEC, but I couldn?t locate a response to the decision.)
The election campaign of Barack Obama addressed the issue of corporate invasion of our politics, but his administration has been timid about the follow-through. The court?s decision, combined with the defeat of Democrat Martha Coakley for the Massachusetts Senate seat of Ted Kennedy, was a wake-up call. The president decried the decision almost at the same time he introduced plans for an overhaul of the banking industry. But is it too late? For health care? For environmental defense? For politics as we know them?
Former Republican operative Roger Ailes, who just got a contract renewal from Rupert Murdoch over at Fox News, must have jumped for joy. It?s difficult to believe that Fox won?t be the indirect recipient of even more corporate generosity via candidates that see the network as the primary outlet for their views. Ironically, to illustrate how difficult it is to counter the unfair and unbalanced news from the right, the liberal Air America announced it was filing for bankruptcy.
Common Cause Director Bob Edgars pegged the decision a ?direct and immediate threat to the vibrancy of our democracy? and called for the immediate passage of the Fair Elections Now Act in Congress.
Over at People for the American Way, the consensus was that a Constitutional amendment was the best way to restore the power of Congress to restrain corporations. (Assuming, of course, that its members are interested.)
Jamin Raskin, a Maryland state senator and a professor of Constitutional law at American University, reminded PFAW participants in a teleconference Friday that for much of our history, the Supreme Court has been conservative or reactionary. As an example, he cited the court?s long silence over slavery, recalling the Dred Scott decision of 1857, which denied the rights of slaves as citizens, and Plessy v. Ferguson in 1897, which upheld racial segregation even after a Constitutional amendment had given male former slaves their civil rights.
For all the fuss from conservatives that the liberal Warren court tried to rewrite the Constitution, the Roberts court has merrily tossed aside judicial precedent and Congressional law as though they never commanded any respect, not to mention the campaign reform measures passed in some twenty-two states, which are now null, according to Raskin.
Raskin expressed some optimism that free market supporters would be alarmed at the influx of corporate money into the political process, but I?m wondering if it will materialize. Meanwhile, he said the decision poses a question to the American people: are we going to lie down and let the corporations govern us?
Only history will show whether the jubilation many of us felt last January that the long nightmare of the second Bush administration was finally over was premature and an illusion. In John Roberts and Samuel Alito, W. left us with a living, breathing legacy with two heads. And let?s not ignore his father?s gift to jurisprudence, Clarence Thomas, or that of President Reagan, Antonin Scalia.
In the meantime, dust off your Shock Doctrine: the Rise of Disaster Capitalism (by Naomi Klein) and keep a close eye on Haiti.
Where have you gone, Sandra Day O?Connor? You are sorely missed.