Friday, January 22, 2010

It's the end of the world as we know it...

Yesterday the Supreme Court made a ruling which will have huge and long-lasting impact on our democracy, although you wouldn't really know it if you were following the news. The Court ruled that limits on the amounts the corporations and other organizations can spend on campaigns is an unconstitutional violation of the first amendment. I am a staunch supporter of the first amendment, but there are several problems with this claim.

The first is that you still have limits on the amount of money that you, as an individual, can send to a candidate or party. I have not read the opinion, but everything I have heard has not said that this was struck down.

The second, and the absolute worst part, is that corporations are considered as people. Now this is nothing new, the Court ruled on this in two major cases in the 19th century. The problem is this has not created individuals but instead super-individuals. A corporation cannot vote, cannot run for office, cannot be indited and sent to prison, it cannot do a lot of things that you and I can do, nor can they be held accountable the way you and I can for our actions. But, what they now can do is to give as much money as the possibly want in order to get the candidates they want in office, and if you don't think that money matters in an election you haven't been paying attention (and this is true regardless of what I said in my prior post about campaigning). The only analogy I can think of of Orwell's 1984 in which "all animals are equal" was changed to "all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others." Except for a very small number of people, no one can give in the volume that major corporations can. What will become very interesting is the political fights that will now take place in corporate boardrooms as they look to decide to whom shall receive the money.

Now conservatives will throw back that unions are also now afforded the same rights as corporations and they can spend as much as they want, and that is indeed true, but that doesn't make it any better. The simple fact is corporations can outspend unions every day of the week, which is one of the reasons so many pro-corporate politicians have been pushing for this change. In the past unions could get their members out campaigning which gave them a decided edge in some localities, but that is no longer the case because money talks and walks.

What I think most conservatives also miss, is that while they can crow now, if this plays out the way it can play out, and probably will without any checks made on the system, they will end up paying the price in the end as well. Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, et al, make their living out of bashing the government and talking about everything that is wrong with them. If that institution is now run by corporations they will quickly lose that ability either through indirect means, such as losing their advertising done by these corporations, or by more direct means. Corporations are not going to want people criticizing their entity. Instead, they will want everyone to be saying how great they are and what a wonderful job they are doing. It is a brave new world, and don't fool yourself, this is straight forward judicial activism. You know the thing that conservatives are always attacking liberals about. There is no legal precedent for this, they just created it out of thin air.

This Sunday we read from Luke about what is at the heart of Jesus' message, which is care for those who are the least in any society: the poor, prisoners, blind, the oppressed. Corporations don't care about any of these groups, because that is not what they are designed to do. A corporation's sole and only purpose is to make money, that is their reason for being. Corporations are not interested in anything or anyone which does not facilitate that goal, and as Christians this should concern us, because if corporations are running the government they will only do what is right for corporations, and this flies in the very face of the Gospel. Non-profits don't have the same motivation of corporations but can be as blind as corporations in their push for things. Checks and balances are absolutely necessary for any system, and the church can and should act as a check on the excesses of society and to warn people where their is trouble. This is one of those places.

Is all hope lost? Of course not. Congress and the people can still do something. Contact your representative and senator and tell them they need to enact laws to counteract this ruling, such as making it mandatory that corporations publish immediately how much and to whom they are donating, and then putting in stringent penalties for violation. Let them know that unchecked power will always lead to disaster, and nothing less than our democracy is at stake.

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