Today's decision, Citizens United v. FEC, comes down decisively on the corporate side. It gives advertisers more power than voters, and tilts the balance of power even farther towards wealthy and corporate interests. The newly composed conservative court upset decades of precedent and settled expectations. As Justice Stevens says in dissent:
Congress has placed special limitations on campaign spending by corporations ever since the passage of the Tillman Act in 1907. We have unanimously concluded that this "reflects a permissible assessment of the dangers posed by those entities to the electoral process," FEC v. NRWC (1982), and have accepted the "legislative judgment that the special characteristics of the corporate structure require particularly careful regulation." (Citations compressed).Today's decision turns paper corporations into actual people, and gives advertisers more constitutional protection than voters.
Progressives can't give up in the face of this setback. Bill Scher and Ralph Nader have called for a constitutional amendment. I'm all for it " though I think we can find easier solutions. We can start by publicly financed campaigns, and add public matches to any private funding raised. Adding speech rather than subtracting it avoids constitutional hurdles. Money has always had power, and always will. The theory of our capitalist democracy is that people voting provides a counterbalance. If money controls business and it controls the ballot box, we're all in trouble.
All of this reminds me of a scene in my novel, 2044.
Our hero finds herself in a political fundraiser, where her boss is raising money for a campaign.
"Why bother voting?" she asks. "Because it's a democracy. The process is crucial. If we didn't have elections people would lose faith in the government, and that wouldn't suit anybody. Besides, it's great fun. Get yourself a drink."