We have been witness to a United States Supreme Court decision that has the potential to fundamentally change America politics as we have come to know it during the past one hundred years. The Supreme Court ruled that restrictions on campaign spending by corporations violated the (heretofore unknown) First Amendment rights of corporations. The concept of freedom of speech has now been extended to include not only American citizens, but also to corporations. This decision is wrong on so many levels the first task is figuring out where to begin.
Consider the fact that nowhere in the United States Constitution is there a grant of rights and freedoms to corporations. There are rights and freedoms that are attributed to the individual owners of the shares of these corporations, but not to the corporations themselves. Corporations are legal entities created to facilitate business enterprises – for better or worse – but corporations were never intended to be a part of the constellations of rights and freedoms that make up some of the most important and admired aspects of the constellations of laws and statutes and court decisions and constitutional institutions of these United States.
Consider the fact that, taken to its logical conclusion, we can expect major corporations, now unfettered by campaign financing laws, to weigh in heavily on every major legislative issue that might affect their bottom line. They will “weigh in” not only by influencing the public debate through advertising and lobbying, they already do that. They will now be able to “weigh in” by contributing, thousands, millions and billions of dollars to the election campaigns of those candidates who support their position. The skewing of America will begin in this next campaign cycle.
Consider the fact that the oil companies, the pharmaceutical conglomerates and the financial industry behemoths have been declaring record profits and record revenues for many years, even during the current depression. From a purely business standpoint, it stands to reason that the managers of these companies will invest in the political process in order to create a salutary business environment for their future endeavors.
Consider the fact that many American companies have significant foreign investment. For example, the largest individual investor in Citicorp is Prince Al-Waleed, a member of the royal family in Saudi Arabia. It does not require a huge leap of imagination to envision major U.S. companies pouring monies into the political process in order to insure results that will favor these foreign investors, even if these results disadvantage many American citizens.
Members of the Supreme Court majority that authored this abominable decision – Justices Anthony Scalia and Clarence Thomas – also participated in the theft of the presidential election in 2000. There is no reason to believe that further encroachments upon the rights and the legitimate aspirations of the American public will not be a part of our future unless and until there is a concerted effort to articulate and support a progressive electoral and legislative agenda at all levels of government.
The Supreme Court has offered us a vision of the future and we should heed that vision. We should beware of inaction in the face of this vision. There is a clarion call being sounded, if we would just listen. It’s a call for unified action. It’s a call for progressive change. It’s a call to stand up to forces that would just as soon resort to deception and legerdemain as it would resort to direct and total confrontation. It is not enough to be aware. If there was ever a time to heed the clarion call for action, it is now.
Wallace Ford is the Principal of Fordworks Associates, a New York-based management consulting firm and is the author of two novels, The Pride and What You Sow