A Step in the Right Direction

The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United should have been a wake-up call for those of us who have been concerned over the growing power of corporate America. Corporations have their place–by shielding entrepreneurs from personal liability, they encourage risk-taking and innovation; I have no problem with the corporate form as a useful business mechanism. (Although I do find it ironic that the growth in corporate hegemony tends to be applauded by people who talk a lot about the need for poor people to exercise “personal responsibility.” Corporations were invented to allow people to escape personal responsibility.)

The problem isn’t with the existence of corporate entities, the problem is with confusing these artificial constructs with human beings, and awarding them rights. There’s a reason we call our individual liberties “human rights.” When the Supreme Court essentially ruled that corporations and labor unions could give unlimited amounts to political candidates and causes, and justified that ruling as “free speech,” most observers–certainly this one–considered the decision both ill-considered and extremely dangerous. When the Senate refused to pass a measure requiring disclosure of such contributions, the floodgates seemed permanently open. We are going to see unprecedented sums spent by the 1% to influence the 2012 elections, and distort the electoral process.

The influence of money on our government has been well documented, and the picture isn’t pretty, but I was heartened to see President Obama taking at least a small step toward limiting the wholesale purchase of policy.

It has been reported that the President is drafting an executive order that would require companies pursuing federal contracts to disclose political contributions that have been secret under the Citizen’s United ruling. Despite howls from the usual suspects, this is a modest “good government” measure that does not violate anyone’s free speech rights. If a company wants to do business with government, and receive payment from our tax dollars, we the people have a right to know whether that business has been contributing to lawmakers and/or government officials who will influence those contracting decisions.

It’s not enough–we need to reign in the increasingly common use of obscene amounts of corporate money to gain political advantage. But it’s a start.


  1. In the wake of the Reckless Endangerment documentation of the 2008 home loan and financial crisis, Congress, Fannie Mae, Wall Street, banks, and ratings agencies are practically indefensible. We now have an indictment of a former director of Goldman Sachs, yet characters like Barney Frank and Phil Gramm still largely evade recognition of their culpability. Despite all this, we’re to believe corporations are “bad”, when most remain lawful while providing millions of jobs and needed tax revenue?
    How is it an improvement to have both local and federal government, “Chicago-style” picking business winners and losers, such as by intruding into campaign donations? I favor the “human rights” tenant: keep both donations and voting, individual-based and private, all the way from donating to a Presidential campaign to voting for a local union representative.
    I don’t disagree that ideally (more like in a dream), I’d prefer responsible, global management of our planet’s environment. However, that would require non-partisan, unselfish statesmanship- the same behavioral lacking we’d have with “only” monitoring corporate donations. We’re talking about the same entrenched power that assures us free enterprise health care will be able to coexist with nationalized single-payer.
    We’re capable of great ideas, but too disparate to sustain them having an occasional bad apple with a personal agenda. When our lousy choices are reforming corruption in either free enterprise capitalism run amuck or an entrenched and controlling government- I favor our success with the former, because individual success seems unimportant in the latter.

  2. Public awareness is an oxymoron.

    So much of the legislation that attains Supreme Court interest these days has been part of a very long game funded by professionals and the public is literally incapable of being aware of it until it is too late. (The constant vigilance clause is not in the Constitution).

    Most of the American public is unaware who the judges are or how they influence life and death in America. Money, however, they understand.

    I am not a lawyer, but having listened to many, it seems that a hundred and fifty years of law made Citizens United a done deal (not good law but inevitable law). CU could have been done in 1933. All they were waiting for was the right mix of judges and a country more concerned for entertainment than jurisprudence.

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