If anything can unite Americans across party and ideological lines, it should be the arrogant and unprecedented Supreme Court ruling that corporations are “persons” with all the protections and rights of the Constitution.
In a case trumped up by the court itself, five activist judges reversed 100 years of precedent to allow unlimited, special-interest money to be spent in our local, state and federal elections.
Corporations are now free to spend unlimited money on behalf of a candidate they favor, or against one they wish to silence. No grassroots organization will ever be likely to raise enough money for their candidate to compete on a level playing field.
Put simply in a New York Times headline, the story comes down to, “Lobbies’ New Power: Cross Us and Our Cash Will Bury You.”
As moderate Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, Jr. wrote, “The only proper response to this distortion of our political system by ideologically driven justices is a popular revolt.”
The choice is simple. Will government answer to the people, or serve special interests? Will elections be an opportunity for the people to speak powerfully to their government, or will elections become competitions among corporate powers, unions and giant foundations to serve their own interests?
And what if corporate interests are tied to an unfriendly foreign power?
It is difficult to imagine how our democracy would be strengthened by a large infusion of cash into our political process from such governments as Russia, China or Saudi Arabia.
Most outrage at this attack on democracy focuses on national politics. However, the ruling also nullifies protections against corporate domination of elections in the 23 states, including Colorado, that model their laws on the federal Constitution.
Secretary of State Bernie Buescher says, “We need to know which portions of the state’s Constitution are no longer enforceable and what are the … areas in which the Legislature can act.”
“The most vibrant reform alliances in our history,” Dionne writes, “have involved coalitions between populists (who stand up for the interests and values of average citizens) and progressives (who fight against corruption in government and for institutional changes to improve the workings of our democracy). It’s time for a new populist-progressive alliance.”
Describing a similar coalition, Robert Reich, Secretary of Labor under President Clinton, says, “A third political party is emerging in America. Call it the I’m-Mad-as-Hell party.”
These Mad-as-Hellers, Reich goes on to say, “don’t trust big government. But they don’t trust big business and Wall Street either. They especially hate it when big government gets together with big business and Wall Street — while at the same time Main Street is in shambles and millions of people are losing their jobs and homes.”
Both progressives and conservatives can endorse that view. Mad-as-Hellers come from both ends and the middle of the political spectrum. They just don’t talk to each other.
Opposition to the Supreme Court’s decision is not a partisan issue either. Though Democrats and liberal independents have been most vocal, politicians from both parties have sounded the alarm against a corporate takeover of elections.
“This ruling was not about the First Amendment, it was about the entire Bill of Rights,” said attorney Ben Manski, executive director of the Liberty Tree Foundation. “The Court has said that corporations are persons entitled to protection against the will of the people. This applies not only to speech, but also to … other constitutional rights.”
In their minority opinion, the dissenting justices wrote, “corporations have no consciences, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires. … their ‘personhood’ often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of ‘We the People’ for whom our Constitution was established.”
The Constitution will continue to be ours only if “We the People” resolve once again that “government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
Divided we put our democracy in peril, but together we can, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, “crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare … to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”
Let the revolution begin.