Last week an extremely dangerous setback on the long road to expanding American democracy occurred. A counter-majoritarian road block to several years of settled law restricting campaign spending emerged. The Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission is a horrible blow that marginalizes candidates who lack financial resources or personal wealth to enter or wage a serious campaign against those who have the resources to mount effective campaigns.
For the Court's conservatives to dare compare the money power of even the largest unions to Fortune 500 corporate giants borders on the criminally insane. Unions --- as the main representatives of workers in capitalist America, have never had equal power status with the ability of big business to ride herd over forever begging politicians via an army of money bag lobbyists. The money power of just one Fortune 500 giant is staggering. A recent Amy Goodman's Democracy Now program pointed out that Exxon Mobile posted profits of $85 billion in 2008. If that corporate giant only used 10 % of its 2008 profits on future campaign spending it would outspend all monies generated by Obama, McCain and all other candidates for political office in 2008.
In the face of this unequal power differential between corporations and unions it's hard to imagine why key AFL-CIO unions would argue in favor of Court's ruling. Labor reps have said that they are, as the Court majority ruled, for the extension of individual free speech (in the form of political opinions) to include groups wanting to monetarily support a particular set of campaign opinions. But the unions somehow forgot that free speech rights also depend, in part, on how much money is spent to defend and broaden those rights. Here again the unions and corporations are unequal.
There's another perennial problem here. As usual most black, racial minority and poor candidates for statewide and national office will be especially harmed, given the historical difficulty of attracting large corporate donations for such races. Typically, those minority candidates who do win significant corporate financial support are those who de-emphasize or detach themselves from the major issues of particular concern to minority constituencies. One of the main criticisms of President Obama by black congressional leaders is his seeming detachment from the oft expressed needs of his most loyal constituency
Now it's okay, for anti-democratic forces with the biggest bucks to deepen their control over democracy, while some main elements of labor sadly go along with the charade in the name of free speech rights.
Optimistically, it's also time for those who want to bolster democracy to get busy. Mass coalitions of labor, good government, minority communities the poor and others must join in united efforts to make the Democratic led Congress legislate antidotes to the Court's despicable ruling.
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