September 14, 2009 http://www.freepress.org/columns/display/7/2009/1769
The Four Courtsmen of the Apocalypse are poised to finally bury American democracy in corporate money. The most powerful institution in human history---the global corporation---may soon take definitive possession of our electoral process.
It could happen very soon.
While America agonizes over health care, energy and war, Justices John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Sam Alito and Clarence Thomas could make it all moot. They may now have the fifth Supreme Court vote they need to open the final floodgates on corporate spending in political campaigns.
Not that this is so different from what we have now. The barriers against cash dominating our elections have already proven amazingly ineffective.
But a century ago, corporations were barred from directly contributing to political campaigns. The courts have upheld many of the key requirements.
Even that may be too much for the Court's corporate core. John Roberts's Supremes may now be fast-tracking a decision on CITIZENS UNITED v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION, centered on a corporate-financed campaign film attacking Hillary Clinton. According to the Washington Post's account of oral arguments, "a majority of the court seemed impatient with an increasingly complicated federal scheme intended to curb the role of corporations, unions and special interest groups in elections."
Former solicitor general Theodore B. Olson, who in 2000 "persuaded" the Court to stop a recount of votes in Florida and put George W. Bush in the White House, said such laws "smothered" the First Amendment and "criminalized" free speech.
The conservative Gang of Four has already been joined by Anthony Kennedy, the Court's swing voter, in signaling the likely overturn of two previous decisions upholding laws that ban direct corporate spending in elections.
When he was confirmed as the Court's Chief, Roberts promised Congress he would be loathe to overturn major legal precedents. But the signals of betrayal now seem so clear that Senators John McCain and Russell Feingold have issued personal statements warning Roberts that a radical assault on campaign finance laws would be considered a breach of faith with the Congress that confirmed him.
Liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg did assert during oral arguments that "a corporation, after all, is not endowed by its creator with inalienable rights."
Civil libertarians like Floyd Abrams and the American Civil Liberties Union have somehow argued that depriving these mega-conglomerations of cash and greed their "right" to buy elections might somehow impinge on the First Amendment.
But the contradiction between human rights and corporate power is at the core of the cancer now killing our democracy. As early as 1815 Thomas Jefferson joined Tom Paine in warning against the power of "the moneyed aristocracy." In 1863 sometime railroad lawyer Abraham Lincoln compared the evils of corporate power with those of slavery. By the late 1870s Rutherford B. Hayes, himself the beneficiary of a stolen election, mourned a government "of, by and for the corporations."