The Supreme Court decided yesterday to give more power to lobbyists and interest groups in political campaigns. They ruled that the government may not ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections. By doing so, they single-handedly made all public conversations on the topic of campaign finance reform irrelevant. In a post last November…’The Price Is Right’…I proposed that ‘we’ needed to decide whether our free enterprise system supports our democracy OR our democracy supports our free enterprise system. Yesterday, the Supreme Court chose the latter in a decision that will dramatically reshape our elections for years if not decades in the future. This decision clearly identifies business interests as our top priority…and it appears we have no recourse in opposition to it.
The balance between free enterprise and democracy comes down to the accumulation and distribution of power. Free enterprise focuses on the systematic accumulation of wealth…and with wealth comes power. In recent years with broad deregulation, mergers and acquisitions have accumulated greater and greater power in fewer and fewer corporations. In 2008 it was agreed by both Republicans and Democrats that some of these corporations had already accumulated power to the point where they were too big to let fail. Democracy, on the other hand, focuses on the distribution of power among all citizens. In politics, this distribution of power depends on an election process where citizens make their choices after weighing all the information they have available on the candidates. Information is critical for the survival of any democracy…that’s why this Supreme Court decision is so damaging. Large corporations already control media coverage of elections and now that they can dominate the advertising side of campaigns, clear and accurate information about candidates will be even harder to find as we try to sift through a mountain of incomplete information, false characterizations and downright lies.
Where are the tea-baggers when we need them? Aren’t they supposed to be actively identifying and resisting the accumulation of power in the hands of just a few that could endanger our personal freedoms and our democracy? What the tea-baggers don’t realize…or choose to disregard…is that the original tea party was a protest over taxes imposed on tea that was traded exclusively by a government-sanctioned for-profit corporation. It was as much a protest against the monopoly-hold the East India Company had on tea as it was a protest against the new tax. When tea-baggers extend their critical view to include all interests that have accumulated too much power for the country’s good, I might consider more conversations with them. The continued accumulation of power in the hands of just a few people is worrisome…and it will be accelerated by this Supreme Court decision.
I really hate to say it, but our democracy is threatened. The already tenuous balance between free enterprise and democracy has been tipped. Since 2010 is a mid-term election year, I believe we’ll see a huge increase in corporate-funded advertisements. Even more worrisome, you can expect corporate interests to frame the issues they feel are most important in ways that are intended to manipulate not only the process but also each candidate’s message. Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision was a game-changer…politicians now will need corporate endorsements, like NASCAR teams. Hang on…it’ll be an interesting ride!