[Graphic created by Michael Dal Cerri.]
In what kind of a country is money considered free-speech? In what kind of a country is a legal construct considered a person? It is definitely not a country to which one would apply the term "democracy."
It is stunning to consider where we have come from democracy to plutocracy. The ruling by the Supreme Court on April 2, 2014 (McCutcheon v FEC) was one of the most egregious blows to democracy that our country has ever seen.
Certainly previous rulings, such as Citizens United v FEC, set up the current ruling. The Supreme Court ruled in McCutcheon vs FEC that there could be no overall contribution limits that an individual could donate to campaigns. Whereas in Citizens United vs FEC, the court ruled that there could be no limits on how much an entity could give to any campaign. Those entities include organizations such as corporations, lobbies, and labor unions. Both of the Supreme Court decisions link back to a 1976 Supreme Court decision of Buckley v Valeo in which the court effectively ruled that money equals free-speech. This was a challenge to an amendment to the 1971 law that created the Federal Election Commission -The Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), which was aimed at controlling campaign funding.
The Un-Public Voices
When you combine the "money equals free-speech" decisions and the evisceration of all attempts to control unlimited funding of campaigns with the concepts of corporate personhood, a legal scenario emerges that is truly frightening. This is particularly true if one is operating within a democracy. Effectively what has been crafted is a complete handover of our political structure to those who have the most money to buy it. In other words, the United States has moved from a society which was a putative representative democracy (eligible citizens selecting representatives to be decision makers) to a plutocracy (rule by the rich). The republicans used to like to remind us that the U.S. is a "republic," thereby reinforcing the concept that it is not a free democracy. This becomes increasingly important as the contexts around who is part of the "public," and who gets represented shift. Certainly a significant part of the overall strategy of moving the United States away from a representative democracy with the broad citizen public as the voters, and into a different form of republic where the rich and corporations are the voting "public," is to redefine who gets to vote. This goes directly to the attack on broad enfranchisement of voters. This process of disenfranchisement is taking three primary paths:
- 1) The gerrymandering of districts to weaken the voting power of those who traditionally do not vote Republican (poor and working class, people of color, and traditionally Democratic districts). This had it largest public airing with the "Texas Eleven" who fled to New Mexico for 46 days in 2003 to block a redistricting vote placed on the Texas floor by Republicans.
- 2) Recrafting voting rights through various mechanisms involving combinations of voter ID and "purging" of the voter rolls, and at the federal level the undermining of the Voting Rights Act (we can once again thank the Supreme Court for eviscerating that Act of the Constitution).
- 3) Promulgating the idea that voting is meaningless and big government overrides the people's needs. This strategy has been used to shrink the voting population, and the smaller the population the smaller a voting block one needs to push forward your own agenda. This also nicely sets up the idea of "shrinking" government in almost all forms and privatizing (corporatizing) its functions.
There have been three primary "forces" in this transformed voting and government: Ronald Reagan, Paul Weyrich (1942-2008) and Grover Norquist.
- The "Reagan revolution" continues to unfold; from the pro-corporate focus, to the undermining of government. Reagan was openly anti-government. One of his often quoted statements is ""government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." (Reagan's inaugural address, 1981 Heritage Foundation).
- Paul Weyrich could almost be called the founder of the modern neo-conservative movement. In a speech to a Christian Convention in Texas in 1980, Weyrich stated (from YouTube video):
"Now many of our Christians have what I call the 'goo-goo syndrome.' Good government. They want everybody to vote. I don't want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now. As a matter of fact our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down."
Weyrich was the founder or co-founder of the following organizations: Heritage Foundation, Christian Voice, Moral Majority, Council for National Policy, co-publisher of Conservative Digest, America's Voice TV, Free Congress Foundation, and most significantly, he was the founder of ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council -- more about this below). He also wrote the book "The Integration of Theory and Practice: A Program for the New Traditionalist Movement" that some consider the training manual for the activist religious Right.
- Lastly, is Grover Norquist, the founder of Americans for Tax Reform. He is also famous for saying ""I'm not in favor of abolishing the government. I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub." (Quote Wise) He got Republican congresspeople to sign a no-tax pledge which is at the base of the Republican and Tea Party contingent to sink the government.
(There has also been the illegal tactic of calling voters and effectively threatening them into not voting, or using scripts that misdirect them in some way -- sometimes "robo-calling" has been used in this manner.)
SCOTUS and the Corporations -- Chamber Music Please
The Roberts' court is argued to be the most corporate court since at least World War II (Epstein, et al, Minnesota Law Review, Vol 97: 1431-1472, "How Business Fairs in the Supreme Court"). Various protections are being offered to corporations but essentially isolate and protect them from virtually any claim or harm. So not only are corporations being argued to be corporate persons within the constitutional sense of the law, but they are increasingly becoming inviolate in that personhood. Those rulings include (according to Brent Kendall of the Wall Street Journal):
Supreme Court Comes to Defense of Business, (WSJ, 6/23/2013).
"The Supreme Court ruled this session that:
- - Comcast Subscribers alleging anti-competitive practices couldn't proceed as a class action because there was no good way to determine monetary damages.
- - Royal Dutch Shell Allegations that Shell was complicit in human-rights violations overseas couldn't be tried in U.S. Court.
- - American Express A class-action lawsuit over card fees couldn't proceed because merchants were bound by a contract they had signed with the card issuer. "
And who is the perpetual player in this theft of democracy; this construction of corpocracy; this rise of the plutocrats? Why none other than the hiding in plain sight, ubiquitous in virtually every town and city in the United States; The Chamber of Commerce. Yes this friendly "welcome to our town;" bring on the conventions; here's your visitor's map folks are truly the Mr. Hyde within Dr. Jekyll (Robert Lewis Stevenson, 1886).
The Chamber of Commerce has been behind many of the cases before the Supreme Court expanding corporate rights and protections. They are also the cornerstone of the ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) that is pushing conservative and pro-corporate legislation in every state in the Union (see ALEC Exposed). According to a study (How Business Fairs in the Supreme Court) by Lee Epstein, William Landes, and Richard Posner in the Minnesota Law Review (Volume 97),
Adam Chandler also did a study of the court, and he found that pro-business and anti-regulatory groups submitted more than 75% of the amicus briefs for the Court. They found that the leading "petition-pusher" was the Chamber with 54, over the three years studied. Further, the Chamber led the pack: