In a close 5 – 4 decision the U.S. Supreme Court has swept away decades of legal precedent and legislation, lifting the ban on direct campaign financing on the part of corporations and unions. Corporate interests (and unions are just labor-oriented corporations, with members as stockholders) are now free to directly support candidates, initiatives, and legislation without the farcical veil of creating a “citizens’ action group” to cover-up their involvement in campaigns.
For decades corporate interests had to maintain a low profile by funneling money through supposedly non-corporate political action groups, so as not to reveal their manipulation of national and local elections. Those days are over – now they can proudly display their corporate logo on political advertising. Over at the Advertising Specialty Institute, a marketing industry group, there is a palpable sense of joy and corporate liberation.
But will multinational corporations embrace this new freedom after so many years of hiding in the political shadows? Probably not. It isn’t in their interest to identify themselves in their political advertising and campaign efforts.
For example, in California corporations intentionally try to make voters think they are “just plain folks” concerned about the political consequences of unbridled corporate greed, thus fooling those voters into voting for candidates and initiatives that benefit the corporations. You won’t see Chevron sticking their name on Chevron-backed initiatives that masquerade as environmental legislation, when it allows Chevron to get around state environmental regulations. In recent California elections many state initiatives were corporate-authored and corporate-sponsored.
All the Court has done is to pull the mask off corporate political support under the questionable reasoning that corporations are entitled to free-speech rights just as people are. But it is doubtful if the corporations themselves will want to take off their masks – they know very few people will vote for a candidate who wears an “AT&T” logo on his back.
More significant is the removal of the McCain-Feingold ban on “non-affiliated” groups running advertising within 30 days of a primary and 60 days of an election. Combined with the lack of limits on corporate contributions this will result in an orgy of political advertising in the last few weeks of an election. This is the critical time when campaigns are willing to simply lie about themselves and their opponents, because they can’t be fined or punished until after the election – the ads will run, and that’s all they care about.
It is well documented that the founders of the United States were against not only corporate but even party participation in the electoral process. They saw it as the distinct right of the individual citizen to decide elections. In his farewell speech to Congress President George Washington warned:
I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the state, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party, generally.
This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but in those of the popular form it is seen in its greatest rankness and is truly their worst enemy.
The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation on the ruins of public liberty.
Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and the duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.
It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection.
It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.
There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true and in governments of a monarchical cast patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opinion to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest instead of warming it should consume.