In a five to four decision, the Supreme Court decided that corporations (and unions) can freely spend their own treasury funds on advertisements for or against individual political candidates. Summarising, Justice Kennedy re-stated the concept of corporations having the same rights as individuals, saying “The First Amendment does not permit Congress to make these categorical distinctions based on the corporate identity of the speaker and the content of the political speech.”
The ruling itself is even more blunt. Referring to the 20-year ruling in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which prohibited corporations or labor unions from paying for campaign ads, it says “Austin is overruled, and thus provides no basis for allowing the Government to limit corporate independent expenditures.” The decision also removes spending limits for independent expenditure groups, as well as spending limits already established in 24 states. It also removes chunks of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that barred issue ads paid for by corporations or unions in the closing days of a campaign.
It’s not quite a complete carte blanche. Corporations still cannot give give money directly to candidates. But given that the candidates chiefly want donations in order to pay for campaigning, this restriction is now broadly pointless.
The upshot is that candidates who agree to whole-heartedly serve huge corporate interests will be on the recieving end of a sea of funding that will allow them to sweep away any opposition. The political structure was already riddled with corruption of course, but it had to be mediated carefully in light of public opinion. That is no longer the case. Corruption has been boosted up from a sneaking presence behind the scenes to being the director of the entire show. Any politician agreeing to suckle at the corporate teat will recieve funds to guarantee near-certain election, and the idea of serving public interests will vanish entirely.
Horrified reactions have come from all parts of the American political establishment, including both John McCain and Barack Obama. But despite the concern of politicians, the ruling is effective immediately. Anyone wanting to fight this decision will find themselves up against a gigantic wall of money. The chances of any meaningful changes being made in time to stop corporate-backed shills from sweeping to power are very low indeed.
Mussolini famously described fascism as the union of business and state. Whether or not he was right is open to debate — it’s probably more accurate to describe it as corporatism, at least until pro-corruption grass-root movements appear amongst the populace — but either way, it is very definitely not democracy. And whatever you call it, that is what the Supreme Court has now created in the USA.
If you live in America, then whatever side of the political spectrum you lie on, you have been betrayed, and your democratic influence has been reduced to that of a sad whisper on the wind. Unless, of course, you happen to be one of the handful of Americans who runs a major corporation, in which case, Hail, Caesar. There are some petitions you can sign (you can find the links on my blog copy of this article at http://www.ghostwoods.com), but frankly, your last shreds of power rest in the right to bear arms.
And that is both tragic and terrifying.