The recent Supreme Court ruling that is widely believed to have opened the floodgates for unlimited corporate spending in elections has many citizens of America upset over the prospect of a nation where corporate power may no longer have to answer to any state controls.
The Supreme Court decision is believed to have nullified decades of law that imposed restrictions on the way corporations can impact elections. Calls to overrule the decision are already mounting. But, if we assess the current state of our nation's managed democracy (a term from the great political philosopher Sheldon Wolin), does anyone really think that in the past decade regulations have actually prevented corporations from significantly influencing elections? Could corporate influence in elections really get anymore pervasive than it already is?
I'm just as inclined as the next liberal to look at the decision and lash out in opposition to it. I certainly empathize with Keith Olbermann's remark during his "Special Comment" that this will now allow all the politicians to be prostituted all of the time instead of just some of the time. But, to me, the backlash against a decision, which is believed to do away with limits to corporate spending, is predicated on the notion that somehow we as a people have had freedom of choice in our democracy.
The reality is that we are a people who have acclimatized ourselves to voting for the lesser of two evils in each election. While other systems of government in other countries spanning the globe elect people from many different parties, we have two parties to choose from. And as Jesse Ventura has characterized it, that's like going to the grocery store and finding only two soft drinks available---Pepsi and Coke. There's no Mountain Dew, no Dr. Pepper, nothing else; just two drinks---Coke and Pepsi---one slightly sweeter than the other depending on your taste buds.
During the edition of Countdown that featured Olbermann's "Special Comment" on the Supreme Court decision, constitutional law expert Jonathan Turley of Georgetown University suggested that the decision indicates this nation doesn't just need a way to restore limits on corporate spending. This nation needs a fundamental "paradigm shift" in politics.
OLBERMANN: What can be done? I mean, legally, what now holds the corporations back from completely taking over the electoral process, 99.9 percent of advertising, 99.9 percent of winning politicians, no limit to the ante, and no limit to what they want to do, including eliminating the First Amendment, if that was one of their goals for some reason?
TURLEY: Well, I think you're right to be alarmed. I mean, there's only about 2,000 PACs that are created under the old system. That old system really has been shredded today. There are millions of companies and corporations that could -- could now directly support this political system.
But I have to tell you, I have long argued that we are in need of more fundamental reforms. Campaign finance primarily looks at the fuel, rather than the machine, itself. I think that we have a political failure in this country, a monopoly by two parties that is strangling the life out of this republic. And I think that we need to, perhaps, with this decision, look for something of a paradigm shift, to look at how we can change our political system with very fundamental issues to deal with -- everything from the Electoral College, which is a disaster, to the monopoly of the two parties, to the hold of incumbents.
There's ample evidence from the past to suggest that what Turley has to say about campaign finance reform is accurate.
Many Americans are familiar with the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform, which enacted a ban on "soft money," money that flows from businesses directly into political campaign coffers in 2002 just after the major corporate scandal with Enron. Despite the limits on "soft money," the reform legislation doubled the amount of "hard money" that could be given by one person directly to members of Congress or presidential candidates from $2,000 to $4,000.
The U.S. Public Interest Research Group, which had supported the reform, wound up denouncing the legislation and characterized McCain-Feingold as "sham reform" that would take America backwards:
"In a climate of spiraling fundraising, and in the wake of the Enron debacle, Congress had the opportunity to pass real campaign finance reform that would have reduced the influence of money on American democracy. Unfortunately, politicians were not up to the task. . . the Senate passed a soft money 'ban' riddled with loopholes and actually increased the amount that the wealthiest individuals can contribute to candidates."
Given the power of corporate, special, or private interests in Washington, one might wonder if the Fair Elections Now Act could even make it through committees in the House and Senate without being defanged like health "reform" legislation has been defanged. (Fair Elections Now is a bill introduced by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Rep. John Larson of Connecticut that blends "small donor fundraising with public funding to reduce the pressure of fundraising from big contributors," and it is being widely promoted by progressives and Democrats as a response to the Supreme Court decision.)
Lawrence Lessig, leader of Change Congress, even said after the decision, "It's very difficult to see how any piece of legislation could undo the damage the Court did yesterday, and I think the American people need to consider all the tools at our disposal as we think about the kind of democracy we want to have and how we want to make it a reality."
And, we all know how likely the Senate or the House is to do anything substantial in the wake of debacles, scandals, or situations that draw attention to the excesses of capitalism in America. Just look at how they've managed to hold Wall Street accountable for the economic collapse in this country in 2008 and even managed to properly regulate the bailout money that was given to banks to help so-called "too big too fail" banks survive...