Supreme Court legitimizes an already corrupt system
by Lynne Williams
This decision doesn’t make a dramatic change in our political system because corporations already control the political debate in this country. It further legitimizes an already corrupt system by allowing corporations to spend shareholder and customer money on direct political attempts to influence voting. Corporations and unions will no longer have to hide behind the “Call senator xyz and tell her you don’t want government healthcare.” Now corporations will be able to simply say, “Vote for senator xyz because she supports the insurance companies.”
The big danger here is how the states and the FEC react. Will they require transparency? How will they deal with “Independent Expenditures?” Will they — or can they — demand adequate reporting from those corporations and union expressing their newfound “free” speech”?
A corporate PR person can set up a new website in 5 minutes, and start buying TV ads in the name of some group like Citizens for Good Government Promoting American Healthcare Reform. Then every insurance company and pharmaceutical company in the world — the world, not just this country — can pump billions into the group, likely with little transparency as to where the money is actually coming from. The losers will be citizens who object to the ads but unwittingly are supporting them by buying the products and services these corporations sell.
We will see similar impacts in the Maine gubernatorial race. Big corporations like First Wind, Nestle, and General Electric are ready and willing to help out the candidates that support big development. And since the corporations and candidates both will claim — whether it’s true or not — that the corporate efforts were done independently of the actual campaigns, these expenditures may not trigger matching funds for any Clean Election candidates.
This decision, in concert with the Maine Legislature’s actions last year to despoil the spirit of the Maine Clean Election Act, clearly means that money is no longer just the mother’s milk of politics, it’s fast becoming the lifeblood of politics.
This all stems from the U.S. Supreme court’s long-ago determination that corporations are persons, and thus have the right of free speech. Yet we know that corporations aren’t persons, and the right of free speech by an individual is far different than the right of paid speech by a corporation.
In the short term, the only thing Maine voters can do to protect themselves from being drowned in the corporate money flood is to start paying closer attention to what the candidates actually are doing not simply what the advertising and sound bites are saying. In the long term, we must find a way to reverse this corporate personhood myth, and return corporations to what they were originally intended to be, non-person entities chartered by the public with a responsibility to benefit, not exploit, our society.
Lynne Williams is a visiting professor at the College of the Atlantic and Maine Green Independent candidate for Governor.