The majority of U.S. Supreme Court justices see no difference between citizens and corporations when it comes to the Constitutional right of free speech, and they did nothing to change the legal precedent that equates "speech" and "money." With their ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the 5:4 majority of Justices has cleared the decks for unrestricted corporate campaign donations and political advertising. Individual U.S. citizens can no longer have a hope of competing in political influence with cash-rich organizations, corporations and unions.
To build their case, the Supreme Court relies on wrong-headed precedents it set during the robber baron age of this country, when the Court was the handmaiden for powerful corporate interests. It perverted the intent of the Civil War-era Constitutional Amendments designed to free and empower former (male) slaves, giving those persons short shrift while elevating corporations to "citizenship" status and according them the rights and privileges thereof. From that point on, corporations ran roughshod over this nation until they were brought to heel (somewhat, anyway) following the Great Depression.
Prior to the robber baron era, corporate charters in the U.S. were granted by states for particular purposes for limited time periods, and the corporations served at the pleasure of the states. They have come to be permitted to exist in perpetuity, extending their activities to as broad a scope as they wish, and expanding (or contracting) pretty much at will. Today's corporations have no patriotism or loyalty; they operate all over the world, avoiding taxes and regulations wherever they can. Corporations that operate within the U.S. but are registered elsewhere (Panama or Bermuda, anyone?) surely cannot be considered "citizens" of the U.S., yet the Supreme Court does not differentiate among these footloose entities when according them U.S. citizens' rights. In the past year alone, so-called American corporations relocated to Bermuda (ex. Accenture) and Switzerland (ex. Transocean) and Dubai (ex. Kellogg Brown & Root). How then can the U.S. Supreme Court deem corporate "citizenship" across the board to be equal to that of individual citizens, thereby granting them all the rights without the responsibilities inherent in citizenship? Worse, the U.S. Supreme Court, with this decision, is freeing corporations to use their "speech" to influence not only the public's buying habits, but their voting decisions, thereby granting them de jure control over our democracy. Bad enough when it was de facto control; now their outsized influence is blessed by the highest court in the land.
As individual citizens, let us encourage the Senators and Representatives who comprehend that this U.S. Supreme Court decision must be overturned by the Legislative Branch through strict laws regulating corporate entities' influence on our imperiled democracy. And let us also send a powerful message of outrage to the Corporatist Senators and Congresspersons who are celebrating this legal decision. Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, George Washington, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams,Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, all adherents of Republicanism as the desired form of government of these United States, would be even more angry than we are at the perversion of the meaning of "Republican" by those calling themselves Republicans in Congress today.
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This story was published on January 22, 2010.