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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 10/23/11

Citizens United Against Citizens United: A Grassroots Campaign to Restore Democracy

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Cross-posted from Hightower Lowdown

Thank you Mitt Romney! Thank you for standing tall, speaking so forthrightly, and rallying so many democracy-loving Americans to join together in THE political fight of our time.

When this well-heeled seeker of the GOP presidential nod hopped atop a hay bale at the Iowa state fair in August, dressed in preppie-casual togs, he looked as natural as a goose in a tuxedo. But then, after a somewhat testy exchange with fair-goers who had challenged him to end corporate tax breaks rather than cut benefits for people, Romney punctuated his opposition to that idea by blurting out one of the stranger tenets of right-wing theology: "Corporations are people, my friend," Mitt said, with a little condescending chuckle.

No, Mitt--actually, they are nothing but pieces of paper issued by state governments. Nonetheless, the rising supremacy of America's corporate plutocracy is based on courts and politicians having blind faith in the legitimacy of the corporations-are-people idolatry. It is not, however, something that its disciples wish to take to the people as an election issue, because... well, because it's poppycock, and it would be resoundingly rejected if it were ever put to a direct vote.

Romney, though, is a thoroughly corporate person -- the privileged son of a Detroit auto honcho, multi-millionaire former-chief of a Wall Street financial outfit, and presently a politico stuffed with corporate campaign dollars. It's understandable, then, that he would reflexively utter the explosive phrase that crystallizes the overarching democratic issue confronting our republic. So, let us praise this chucklehead for inadvertently injecting the right-wing fiction of corporate "personhood" directly into the 2012 presidential election.

Across the country, the overwhelming majority of people (i.e., us living, breathing humans) despise the anti-democratic domination of our elections (and, therefore, of our government, economy, media, environment, etc.) by a relatively few self-aggrandizing corporate behemoths. This public anger has intensified since January 2010, when a corporatist cabal of five Supreme Court justices defied the Constitution, common sense, the often expressed will of the people, and nature itself to produce a twisted ruling in a case titled Citizens United. The five decreed that -- shazam! -- lifeless corporate entities are henceforth "persons" endowed with more electioneering rights than us real-life persons, enabling them to buy public officials by dumping unlimited sums of company cash into our elections.

Ironically, Citizens United (a case that was brought to the Court by an astroturf group fronting for right-wing corporate powers), literally united America's citizenry in broad, deep, and vehement opposition to the absurd notion that a corporation is entitled to inclusion as one of us in "We the People." In poll after poll, huge majorities consistently scream against the ruling and demand strong action against it. For example, a Hart Research survey in January -- a year after the Court's edict was issued -- found that public opposition remained fervent, with 87 percent of Democrats, 82 percent of Independents, and even 68 percent of Republicans favoring passage of a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and to make clear that corporations do not have the same rights as people.

Supreme Court cases and arcane matters of campaign finance don't usually move the needle of public awareness from "huh?" to "hot damn!" But the perversion of our politics and government by deep-pocket corporations has been like sticking the public's tongue in an electric socket. People are energized by it, and they've turned such terms as Citizens United, the Roberts Court, the Koch Brothers, SuperPACs, and corporate personhood into curse words. The issue has even become a comic punch line: "If corporations are people," asked a letter writer to the New York Times, "can I marry one? Is General Electric single?" And here's one from my state: "A corporation is not a person until Texas executes one."

The Money Dump

In response to such strong public outrage, our elected stalwarts in Washington have risen up and responded decisively. By doing exactly nothing.

Start with Republican leaders: Long wedded to the corporate plutocracy by ideology and money, they openly cheered the Court's move. Next, the Democrats: President Obama squawked briefly about the judicial hijacking of our democracy, and the party's congressional leaders flapped their arms in anger for awhile -- but then they just let it go, slinking quietly away from the issue (though, importantly, a feisty Progressive Caucus in Congress continues to push the issue aggressively).

Tellingly, the new tea party Republicans, who had barged into the congressional club with thundering claims that they had come to "take our country back" and "restore power to The People," have been conspicuously silent on this most fundamental issue of the people's power. Far from ending Washington's corrupt business-as-usual system, they've slipped comfortably into it (see last month's Lowdown), with not a peep of protest over the fact that five unelected government officials have dictated that Big Money is a person with political "rights" to buy our government.

Now comes 2012, and tea partiers, Republicans, and corporate Democrats alike can be seen scurrying around like hunger-crazed squirrels in a frenetic grab-fest for the tens of millions of dollars -- even hundreds of millions -- that Mitt's "people" are gleefully throwing around. America's grassroots majority is left gaping in dismay and disgust as the political establishment literally sells us out.

The 2012 money dump is well underway, and it is massive. The tip of this destructive iceberg is a legalistic gimmick known as the SuperPAC. Authorized by Citizens United, these are super-sized, super-energized, political action committees. Unlike the regulated PACs of yesteryear, SuperPACs can take tens of millions of dollars right out of corporate coffers (as well as from unions and individuals, but corporations are the monster players) and put the whole load directly into ads and other efforts to elect or defeat any candidate(s) they choose.

How big of a load? Just one of these money monsters, Karl Rove's "American Crossroads" raised a whopping $28 million from corporate interests to elect Republicans in last year's elections. But that's a mere trickle compared to the tsunami now headed our way -- Rove's Crossroads PAC is presently amassing a democracy-shattering $240 million for 2012.

Every major presidential candidate has at least one of these things sacking up and spending money specifically on their behalf. Rick Perry, for example, has six of them at work. Technically, SuperPACs are "independent" entities that must not coordinate their spending with the candidates they're supporting. This legal prohibition against coordination is absolute. And it's absolutely a farce and a fraud.

Take Perry's top SuperPAC, modestly named "Make Us Great Again," which intends to put $55 million behind the Texas yeehawer's effort to win the GOP presidential nomination. It was created and is headed by Mike Toomey, who was a top corporate lobbyist in Texas before sliding over in 2002 to be Perry's gubernatorial chief of staff. In 2004, Toomey slid back into lobbying, using his tight ties to Rick to become Austin's preeminent corporate influence peddler and a prodigious fundraiser for the guv. Cozy.

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Jim Hightower is an American populist, spreading his message of democratic hope via national radio commentaries, columns, books, his award-winning monthly newsletter (The Hightower Lowdown) and barnstorming tours all across America.

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