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.