The yowling of our family cat Fang, en route to be fixed, was nothing compared to cries arising from liberals last week when the U.S. Supreme Court gave corporations free rein to spend without limits in political races.
With customary disconnect, the left’s wordy press releases made no case for why an ordinary voting citizen should worry about the Supremes’ precedent-shattering 5-4 ruling. Here’s an effort to do so:
Big business has chafed for 103 years, since Republican President Theodore Roosevelt pressured Congress to forbid corporations, railroads and banks from donating to federal races.
The broadest smile in America, after Thursday’s “Citizens United vs. FEC” ruling, must belong to U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohoe.
The chamber already has shown mastery at hiding its footprints, and those of its members, even as it spends millions to influence the political process.
In September of 2004, something called the “Voters Education Committee” blitzed Washington’s airwaves with TV spots denouncing Deborah Senn, a former insurance commissioner seeking the Democratic nomination for attorney general.
The campaign’s price tag came to $1.5 million. Senn won the nomination but lost in November.
The Supremes have upheld disclosure of contributions. Sources of money can, however, be disguised. Our corporations have on a broad scale perfected a tactic — creation of front groups — begun in the 1930’s by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and the Comintern.
As the nation’s health care debate heated up last year, TV ads popped up from two outfits called the Campaign for Responsible Health Reform and Employers for a Healthy Economy.
Here’s tracking the bucks: Such major health insurers as Aetna, Cigna, Humana, UnitedHealth Group and Wellpoint put millions into a trade group called America’s Health Insurance Plans.
In turn, the money was funneled to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to air spots by the two front groups, which were set up and underwritten by the Chamber. The Chamber spent an estimated $70 million to $100 million on the advertising.
A Wall Street Journal story showed how the Chamber works on the judicial branch of government.
Such big players as Wal-Mart and the American Council of Life Insurers put up $1 apiece to pay for ad campaigns directed at electing business-friendly judges to state court positions.
“The participants had all been targets of costly lawsuits and the Chamber’s campaign gave them a way to fight back — without disclosing their identities,” the Journal reported.
With all restraints removed by the Supremes — the opinion’s author, Justice Anthony Kennedy, once worked as a beer lobbyist in Sacramento — what more in the way of abuses are we likely to see.
“Corporations will target officeholders who won’t do their bidding,” predicted John Bonifaz, legal director of a group called Voter Action. Bonifaci feels the country needs to amend the U.S. Constitution to say, simply, that corporations are not people.
“Spending on federal campaigns in 2008 totaled $3 billion,” Bonifaz added. “The top 100 corporations on the Fortune 500 list have realized $600 billion in profits during a year. If you take just 1 percent of $600 billion, you will double the record amount of money spent in the 2008 elections.”
Of course, “big bidness” — the wonderful phrase of the great Texas columnist Molly Ivins — is not monolithic.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has claimed a House passed climate bill — designed to cap greenhouse gas emissions and encourage new energy sources — would “completely shut the country down” and “virtually destroy the United States.”
Several members have quit the Chamber over such lies and exaggerations. Apple resigned last October, saying it supports regulating greenhouse gas emissions. Three utilities — Pacific Gas & Electric, PHM Resources and Exelon — resigned from the chamber’s board. So did Nike.
The sheer gall of big corporations can still be something to behold. Consider Exxon, which mounted a 15-year legal battle against a $5 billion punitive damages award over the Prince William Sound oil spill. The Supremes eventually cut the award to one-tenth what the federal court jury awarded.
“Exxon tried to bring the Exxon Valdez back to Prince William Sound (banned by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990) claiming its Fifth Amendment rights of takings were violated,” recalled Dr. Riki Ott, a Cordova biologist and fisher who correctly forecast the spill.
Democrats in Congress are talking — they’re always talking — about a legislative response to the Supremes’ ruling.
Why not ask shareholders to approve political expenditures? Why not try to limit political spending by corporations that receive federal grants, or lobby the federal government? Make mucky-mucks at the Chamber and big corporations appear in TV spots and say they “approved” the message?
Still, the Supremes have been handing out human rights to corporations at such a clip that a Constitutional Amendment may be the only answer.
As Riki Ott put it, “Artificial persons should not have constitutional rights and protections.”
A good look at why the Supreme Court’s latest giveaway to Corporate Personhood is a bad thing.