The Coca Cola Party?

John Paul Stevens, U.S. Supreme Court justice.

Justice John Paul Stevens, via Wikipedia

When I first heard about it I was appalled. On January 21, 2010, the Supreme Court, in a case that is now usually referred to as Citizens United , overturned the provision of McCain-Feingold barring corporations and unions from paying for political ads made independently of candidate campaigns.

The idea that corporations and unions should have the same free-speech rights as individual people seemed absurd. Organizations are made up of people, it’s true, but corporate decisions are not individual votes. A corporate decision might not even reflect the opinion of the majority of its members. Business organizations are motivated by profit, and properly so, whereas individuals also have societal concerns.  (For instance they might be worried that mercury from coal-burning plants is turning up in fish all over the world.) Union leaders too are different from individuals.  They are motivated by collective wages and benefits, often to the exclusion of competition concerns. Even more to the point, corporate boards of directors may be vulnerable to the disproportionate personal opinions of wealthy investors, including foreign investors.  (Think China.) For an example of one such, we need look no farther than the Koch family , wealthy people who have a passion for influencing politics to their own liking.

Can money influence elections? Absolutely. There is a good reason why Super Bowl ads cost about $ 3 million dollars for a 30-second spot this year. Please consider this story of John Snow of North Carolina, from the New Yorker Magazine. The author said,

That fall, in the remote western corner of the state, John Snow, a retired Democratic judge who had represented the district in the State Senate for three terms, found himself subjected to one political attack after another. Snow, who often voted with the Republicans, was considered one of the most conservative Democrats in the General Assembly, and his record reflected the views of his constituents. His Republican opponent, Jim Davis—an orthodontist loosely allied with the Tea Party—had minimal political experience, and Snow, a former college football star, was expected to be reëlected easily. Yet somehow Davis seemed to have almost unlimited money with which to assail Snow.

And,

“The attacks just went on and on,” Snow told me recently. “My opponents used fear tactics. I’m a moderate, but they tried to make me look liberal.” On Election Night, he lost by an agonizingly slim margin—fewer than two hundred votes.

Relative to this issue, Duane Graham posted an appeal a couple of days ago for a Constitutional Amendment that would forbid financial contributions by corporations to candidates for federal elective office. This would effectively nullify the Citizens United decision, one which was decided 5 to 4, by the way. In his dissent, Justice Stevens said this,

At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.

I must say that I have wrestled with this topic for a number of days now, and Anson

Occupy Wall Street Day 7 September 23 2011 Sha...

Image by david_shankbone via Flickr

Burlingame’s comments gave me pause as well. His concern as I understand it is that the proposed amendment might forbid paid journalists to write or speak political opinions. But, having re-read the proposed amendment, as Duane notes in his own comment, I see that it would do nothing of the kind. It simply forbids corporate contributions directly to campaigns.

In my opinion, the Amendment should also forbid collective (but not individual, of course) contributions by union leadership. I’m with Justice Stevens on this one – there’s way too much money in our politics, and you know what?  People just might be starting to get upset about Wall Street’s hubris, as in “Occupy Wall Street”.

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About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Independent, tending progressive as the GOP recedes from its Eisenhower roots.
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12 Responses to The Coca Cola Party?

  1. PiedType says:

    I cried tears of anger and frustration during the last election, seeing what all the outside money was doing to the election process in my state and across the country. It was a direct result of the Citizens United decision. And 2008 was not a presidential election year. 2012 will be. Then, instead of watching Congress in general get sliced, diced, and sold off to the highest bidder, we’ll be watching the auctioning off of the U.S. presidency.

    American democracy. Now for sale to the highest bidder, foreign or domestic. I may throw up.

    Like

  2. hlgaskins says:

    Im

    “if you—Democrat or Republican or everything in between or outside the lines—are interested in a movement to rid ourselves of the idea that money can and should purchase politicians”

    I totally agree with that sentiment and your post. Unfortunately the supreme court arose out of all of us, in a world where the average person cheats in a board game, uses insider information for personal profit, and commands religious followers to disavow their beliefs. It took most of us to get here, and it’ll take most of us to get out.

    Like

  3. John Erickson says:

    (Note: I need to do some more research on this, but…. )
    I saw something go by earlier today, that claimed a Wall Street brokerage house had a sign in the window saying “We Are The 1%”, a somewhat self=possessed comment on the old “1% of the people have 90% (or 99%) of the wealth”. If this is true, I’m starting to see the Wall Street Occupiers as more than just quaint Don Quixote types.
    And I definitely agree that we need less, not more, money in political advertising. I don’t mind ads by the actual candidates, but when we have vague, fear-mongering attacks with little substantiation, brought out by groups unconnected with the candidate (there’s been a bunch here in Ohio from things like “Concerned Citizens For Better Government” and equally nebulous names), there needs to be some kind of regulation and/or reduction.

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  4. Jim,

    I will note that the effort by Dylan Ratigan is an effort to get a debate going, one that would, if it actually began in earnest, result in a different Amendment from the one proposed. I am totally in favor of getting the issue national attention, as I see it as the only solution to our political problems.

    I personally would advocate (in addition to some sort of supplemental public financing that was regionally sensitive to advertising costs): 1) no corporate giving at all, including unions and other collective entities, and 2) individual contributions would be limited to, say, $10, or some other relatively nominal amount per election cycle, and 3) I like the idea of a national voting holiday, but I could be talked out of it. 4) I also would allow same-day voter registration, as it seems an unnecessary hindrance to require registration weeks in advance of an election.

    Finally, if such a national discussion ensued, obviously serious objections would be raised by honest people examining the issue and through that process a better, more precise and effective, Amendment could be crafted. As it is, though, an Amendment is the only way open to us to change the system.

    Thanks for a great post, Jim.

    Duane

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  5. sekanblogger says:

    Great post and comments.

    I sure hope to see justice served.
    The criminals who brought down the world economy have more money than ever, and….
    they’re “reloading” (as Palin put it), to BUY THE NEXT ELECTION.
    God help the 99% of us.
    Jesus wept….

    Like

  6. ansonburlingame says:

    Jim,

    What you and Duane suggest as a way to “get money out of politics” comes down to how it would be enforced and still allow all people and groups of people, collectively, to speak their minds a.out politics.

    First one point you make above that is just NOT TRUE. You said, “Business organizations are motivated by profit, and properly so, whereas individuals also have societal concerns.” At least your implication is that any business is NOT concerned about societal issues, only profit. Hogwash. Let society go to hell and no business survives. If “society” does not educate the young, where do workers come from for starters or have roads to travel to work?? I worked for two major Fortune 500 companies and the CEOs, Boards of Directors, senior executives in each of those organizations were all as concerned about “society” as I was and they spend money to achieve societal goals for the common good, in charities and taxes, a lot of each one.

    But on to the real substance of the issue as I see it.

    I am free to post an ad in the Globe to sell my home or dog. All it takes is money to do so. I am also reasonably free to describe my home or dog in the best possible way to encourage buyers to “come look” and then decide for themselves. Obviously, you would agree that such freedom is “good” and any “exaggerations” in my ad are subject to libel laws and other legal constraints. But the ultimate decision to purchase that which I am “selling” rests with the buyers and “buyer beware” is always a caution containing common sense.

    Now given enought money, I could run a full page ad in the Globe for the next 13 months to “sell” my political views, right. But with your new constitutional constraints I could be audited by anyone opposing my views to see where exactly my money might be coming from, right.

    So if I spend money for a political ad, I am treated differently than if I spend money for selling my home or dog, right? Somewhere between those extremes is a freedom of speech issue. I assume you still belive that advertising is in fact freedom to “speak” in writing or on TV, etc.

    What you are really saying is that political “speak” must be limited in some way through limiting funding for such “speak”. Well if such restrictions apply to everyone I wonder where Thomas Paine might have found the money to print “Common Sense”??? Printers don’t work for free, do they?

    I could go on and on for sure. For example Duane completely ignored Union “contributions” in his proposed Amendments and is now simply calling for “debate”. Fine, let’s debate. I take my initial position in the First Amendment and will hold fast to that principle at all costs. Speech must be free or only subject to extremes of libel, etc. If “Swift Boats” lied in their ads in 2004, take the SOBs to court and prove it in accordance with laws, not opinions.

    And when you figure out a way to cancel out Swift Boat ads, you damn well better figure out a way to cancel our MoveOn.org as well. And then of course there is funding for Acorn and others on the left as well as whomever of opposite interests on the right.

    Your goal is interesting for sure. But you must figure out a way to enforce it without infringing on free speech. I am all ears at this point.

    Anson

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    • Jim Wheeler says:

      First of all, welcome back, Anson. (I assume you are home now.) Things are much more lively when you’re around. 🙂 Now, allow me to respond to your comments if you will.

      I believe the objective is not to get all money out of politics, but rather to remove from it that money which is motivated only by corporate concerns, such money being disproportionate to what most individuals can afford. And that brings up your next point about motivation. When I say that business is motivated by profit I am not saying that business is sinister or destructive regarding society, or even unconcerned. Businesses are usually sensitive to public perceptions about their images, and properly so. After all, there are both private and public organizations that monitor and report on how corporations do business, not least of which is the Fourth Estate. I will point out too that charitable works are both tax-deductible and good for the corporate image. Very large businesses take more advantage of this than do small ones, and one reason for this is that true competition on a large scale differs from the smaller.

      But what I’m saying is that profit is the primary motivator that drives all business decisions, and that includes the public image decisions. Look, I too worked for a private company, albeit one with many government contracts, and I saw this first hand. Business typically pushes profits to the regulatory limits every time. If they don’t, their competition will. That’s not hogwash, that’s just the way it works. If it weren’t for the EPA, for example, I believe almost all of the power companies in the country would still be on coal, the cheapest and most abundant fuel, would be spewing mercury by the tons into the atmosphere, and Detroit’s river would still be catching fire. If you think corporations are so altruistic, Anson, how come so many have moved their manufacturing operations overseas and bought vacation homes next to their corporate headquarters in Bermuda and similar places?

      Maybe you were on vacation when I wrote these posts:

      Ref: A. https://jwheeler59.wordpress.com/2011/08/05/hidden-on-a-rock/
      B. https://jwheeler59.wordpress.com/2010/10/23/dutch-sandwich-anyone-yum-yum/

      Short of libel, Duane and I aren’t trying to keep you from running an ad in the Globe for whatever opinion you want to put forth. You aren’t a corporation. (Are you?)

      As for MoveOn.org, or Fox News, or MSNBC, or Hank Williams Jr., or Rush Limbaugh for that matter, I think people can judge for themselves what bias there might be. I am not advocating that such outlets be restricted, just corporate money. This is not about curtailing free speech, this is about separating free speech from the corporate profit motive. As for enforcement, I really don’t see a big problem. We already have had campaign financing laws and I can’t tell that they are any harder to enforce than tax laws.

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  7. ansonburlingame says:

    First Jim,

    You too have now left out UNIONS in your above comments. I don’t know if that is intentional or not. Unions, in my view, are groups of people with a common goal, money, for those people in the group. In that sense “profit” as measured in terms of wages and benefits is the same, money, as profits from corporations. Money drives both entities and Union executives can be as dispecable in how they use their money as can corporate executives. I wonder how many vacation homes Hoffa may have had before someone slit his throat???

    Duane’s outrage over money in politics seems to be driven by disdain over such things as “Swift Boat” type ads, which were paid for by a group of people getting money from ????. As I now read the “intent” of the new Amendment being espoused by you and Duane, no restrictions would be placed on corporations or anyone else from giving money to the “Swift Boat people” or MoveOn “people” or Acorn “people. As I try to “get your gist” you seem to only want to prevent corporations (Unions as well???) from giving money to politicians’ campaign coffers themselves.

    OK, now I am “politician A” with a legal campaign fund. Your amendment would prevent a corporation (Union as well??) from donating ANY money to that campaign fund. OK. So I get a private person to campaign FOR ME by running ads, etc. Would it still be legal for a corporation (or Union???) to donate money to that private PERSON? Think of it at least from a funding collection entity as ONLY ONE person, a one man corporation if you will.

    We are right back to the dilemma of ME, alone, running 13 months of “Swift Boat” or “Acorn” type ads, political ads. But your new “law” would prevent ME from receiving any money for such ads from a corporation (or Union???). I wonder how you will enforce that new law particularly if there suddently become about a million “MEs” around the country, masquerading as a single and private entity running political ads?

    Can George Sorros alone pay for such ads all he chooses to so pay? Hmmm. Wonder where HE gets all of HIS money? I bet there is a whole group of “corporations” contributing to that little nest egg.

    Anson

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    • Jim Wheeler says:

      @ Anson,

      Just to confirm, yes, I did intend that the restriction apply to unions as well as corporations, just as I said before. And I will point out that Duane did so as well. In fact, he said this,

      “1) no corporate giving at all, including unions and other collective entities,”.

      I note from my dictionary as well that “corporation” is defined as “a company or group of people authorized to act as a single entity (legally a person) and recognized as such in law.”

      Duane also said something else which bears on the discussion and with which I agree,

      “Finally, if such a national discussion ensued, obviously serious objections would be raised by honest people examining the issue and through that process a better, more precise and effective, Amendment could be crafted. As it is, though, an Amendment is the only way open to us to change the system.”

      I agree that the “Swift Boat” or “Acorn” type of thing is a concern and that I don’t know how to do so at this point, but I submit that, as Duane says, a national discussion just might help resolve the issue, and I can’t see how it would hurt to try. With the widening gulf between political extremes, discourse is devolving into pejorative yelling matches. I don’t like that, do you? Do you have a better solution?

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  8. ansonburlingame says:

    Jim,

    Glad that we now seem to be in agreement that whatever we try to do or discuss trying to do to reduce the money in politics will apply equally to unions and corporations. And if we really try to do that, reduce both union and corporate “giving” to politics, the political process will never support such move with both of those big guns opposed to it. And believe you me if you or the EC try to “sneak one over” by prohibiting something from corporations that does not apply equally to unions, well my guns will blaze for sure for whatever that is worth. So when you or the EC write about such matters and “mistakenly” do not include unions along with corporations, well ??? is a polite initial response from me at least.

    We do have a problem with money in politics for sure. But to fix that problem at the expense of free speech, nope I will not support it. But I am again all ears and eyes looking for a reasonable fix.

    Anson

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    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Anson, I am worried about you. Are you getting paranoid? Nobody is trying to “sneak one over”. Or do you see yourself as the editor on these pages? Once having made a statement on a post, must I always repeat it in subsequent comments on that post? Or do you need redundant reassurance? Your defensive/offensive comment seems to largely ignore my previous comment of 10:05 am, 2011/10/07, but I see no point in repeating it.

      Really, accusations, disparagements, and “blazing guns” only get in the way of discourse, IMO.

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  9. ansonburlingame says:

    Offensive comments????? Making sure you and the EC really agree that union contributions are included in limits on political “giving” is OFFENSIVE???.

    Politicians pull that kind of loose talk all the time to “get their way”. The EC wants more POWER for unions to do social good. So he suggests an Amendment to the Constitution to do what seems to my skeptical mind to do exactly that, limit money from corporations and say NOTHING about union money. Then he say “Opps” I left out Unions and now calls for debate. You agree with him and then, again, left out unions. Was that an “opps” on your part? Just checking, offensively, I suppose. Or on the other hand are you too DEFENSIVE in your reply?

    You and the EC NEVER trust anything said politically by the Tea Party and challenge them all the time as idiots or worse. Well I feel the same way about many liberal comments and proposals.

    Now let’s ( at some point) start arguing about Occupy Wall Street. I have not yet checked the EC blog but as of Friday he had nothing (yet) to say on that spectacle where it now seems unions are joining the young folks wanting ????. More money is what I hear so far along with “fairness”.

    Then we could anticipate those Occupy Wall Street folks going to the length recently seen in England with burning buildings, etc. When law enforcement then steps in we will hear someone scream about “corporate” police bashing heads in attempts to stop a riot. Go back to Boston in the early 20’s for such an example of counter accusations. Power of the people for “fairness” vs “corporate thugs”.

    Anson

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