In the most stunningly wrong ruling since the Dred Scott Decision 153 years ago, the conservative activist judges on the US Supreme Court have transferred the power to elect governments in the US—from the local level right up to the President—to big corporations.
In a 5-4 ruling, the court removed all limits on how much money corporations can spend for or against political candidates. Some have said that, in effect, the activist judges have legalised bribery, and it’s hard to argue against that.
The court made two major errors: First, they continued the legal fiction that a corporation is “a person” in every respect and that then led them to their second error, that these non-existent persons have the same rights to “free speech” as real people.
Corporations are not people: They cannot vote and they cannot run for public office. Their managers and their owners (shareholders) are not necessarily even US Citizens or resident in the country, which means that foreigners are now free to buy American politicians by spending money for them or against their opponent. What politician, aided by such largesse, would oppose the wishes of their benefactor?
The rightwing, especially the Republican Leadership in Congress, has declared it a “victory” for the First Amendment. What they meant was a victory for their campaign finances, more likely, because there’s no way that stacking the deck so dramatically against ordinary citizens and their interests is victory for anything apart from the interests of the corporate elites.
Of course, there’s already the stench of special interest money in US politics, but this ruling will allow corporations to throw their money around openly. Unions will be free to spend money, too, but after decades of union-busting efforts by government and the corporate elites, unions collectively have less money available to them many large corporations.
The Framers of the Constitution could never have imagined today’s trans-national corporations. Had they done so, they would’ve forbidden corporate interference in elections. Any claim to the contrary betrays a fundamental misunderstanding or ignorance of the Founders’ suspicion of power being concentrated in too few hands.
There are some ways this damage could be undone, short of removing the rightwing justices and replacing them with sensible moderates. First, the Electoral College could be abolished, making individual states less important and making targeted spending by the corporate elites less effective. Failing that, Electoral Votes should be allocated by Congressional District, and not “winner takes all”.
Second, all elections should be Instant Run-off Voting. This would break the monopoly of the two parties as well as make it harder for corporate elites to target races because the result is less predictable.
But to be truly safe from the corporate elites, a future saner court will have to reverse this decision.
Update 23 January – Roger Green has posted an interesting look at part of this: "Earl Warren Would Have Hated the Citizens United Ruling".