Cape Cod Times: Undoing court’s electoral misstep

February 8, 2011
By Sean Gonsalves:

When Cape Air founder and CEO Dan Wolf was running for the state Senate seat that he eventually won in November, he began hearing complaints from a growing number of voters in the final weeks of the campaign.

They were getting mauled with mailings and campaign literature, and it was starting to turn voters off.

“What a lot of people don’t realize, though, is that a good number of those mailings were actually not from my campaign. And in many instances I had no idea who was sending that stuff out,” Wolf told me this week.

Wolf was pointing to just one small example of how anonymous organizations and corporations infused with untold sums of special-interest money can warp the electoral process in light of the hugely unpopular U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

The year-old ruling overturned a century of legal precedent that banned unlimited corporate cash from being dumped into elections. But thanks to court’s right-wing justices, not only does Citizens United allow for narrow political interests to donate anonymously, the ruling makes it even easier for corporate lobbyists and their Big Business boot-licking brigades to increase what was already a disproportionate and undue influence on our government.

Of course, it’s an absurdity to give corporations and flesh-and-blood human beings the same rights. It’s absurd for precisely the reasons laid out by media analyst Ryan Clayton: “Money is property, not speech. Corporations are property, not citizens. Citizens have voting rights, property rights, and free speech. Property has none of these.”

Though polls show 80 percent of the American public disagrees with the court on this issue, plutocratic supporters deride the opposition as “anti-business.”

Yeah, well, tell that to Wolf.

Along with state Sen. James Eldridge, D-Acton, and state Reps. Cleon Turner, D-Dennis, and Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown, the longtime businessman and newly elected state senator is co-sponsoring a resolution (SD 1488) that asks Congress to amend the Constitution to specifically put a stop to this nonsense.

“I’m not sure symbolic is the right word for this, even though I don’t expect there to be an immediate constitutional convention,” Wolf said. “I do think it’s important to make the point that this ruling is going to have a really detrimental impact.

“I said it on the campaign trail and I mean it: I believe this is the biggest threat to our democracy right now,” he insisted.

Wolf considers Citizens United such an enormous threat for a simple reason: “The corporations who make up our economy should serve our vision of the future, not dictate what our vision is. It’s that simple. Our economy should serve the needs of people. To the degree that we are opening the door to allowing corporations – without a heart, soul or conscience – to define what our vision of the future should be unacceptable,” he said.

Legalistic philosophizing aside, the idea that corporations were at a political disadvantage or were being treated unjustly even before the SCOTUS decision is just plain nuts. Or, as Wolf puts it: “I didn’t know the problem was that corporations didn’t have enough input, so I’m not sure what injustice (the Supreme Court) ruling ameliorates.”

And the canard that putting limits on corporations is somehow anti-business is “outrageous,” Wolf added.
“This is not anti-business. As a businessperson myself, I understand and appreciate the role that business plays. But there has to be a healthy balance between the citizenry, our government and business … (Citizens United) skews the balance in a significant way.”

Eldridge, the primary sponsor of the resolution, sees it as a way to “send a message to our congressional delegation and our president … because the only way to solve this problem is through a constitutional amendment.”
Eldridge lamented having seen good public policy and legislation get killed or gutted by corporate special interests and now “fears what the atmosphere will be like if corporations take full advantage.”

In just one election since the ruling, we’ve already got an idea of where this is heading without corrective action.
According to the watchdog group Public Citizen, who followed the money and published a detailed 76-page report on the effects of Citizens United, spending by outside groups jumped to $294.2 million in the 2010 election cycle from just $68.9 million in the 2006 cycle.

They also found that nearly half of the money spent ($138.5 million, or 47.1 percent) came from only 10 groups, and of 75 congressional contests in which partisan power changed hands, spending by outside groups favored the winning candidate in 60 contests.

And that’s why state Rep. Cleon Turner added his name to the proposed resolution.

In the last election, “we were hearing not what people thought but what corporations thought. I’m not big on symbolism but this is a first step in letting federal government know, we want to change that … I don’t think the original (constitutional) intent was that a corporation be considered a person. The Constitution was intended to protect people.”

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