|Few people thought that the court case brought last year by Citizens United would result in a ruling that would shake the very foundation of the timid rules the federal government had in place to keep special interest election contributions under some semblance of control.
The case, which centered on a 90-minute video diatribe against Hillary Clinton during the presidential primary season, was expected to result in a narrow ruling around the question of whether such a video fell under the provisions of the McCain-Feingold law. After all, there were several Supreme Court precedents that had already upheld McCain-Feingold's limits on corporate and union spending.
Instead of simply following precedent, the right-wing cabal that now controls the court asked for arguments for and against the limiting of such campaign contributions under free speech guarantees. It seems they were setting up the result we inevitably got: corporate money can flood elections and overwhelm all those who don't serve their selfish desires. In other words, they were writing corporate-friendly legislation disguised as a legal ruling.
What amazed me was that the AFL-CIO filed a brief in support of corporations and unions being able to give unlimited money...as if the weak unions we have today could ever hope to compete with corporate power.
All this judicial mischief is the continuation of still another bad Supreme Court decision, Buckley v Valeo (1976), which declared spending money to influence elections is a form of constitutionally protected free speech.
Again, I reiterate: Money is not speech; corporations are not individuals. However, barring a return to common sense by the Supreme Court (an impossibility right now), we now have to do what we can to reclaim our democracy.
One thing crucial to cleaning up the mess our political system has become is reform of our election process. Key to reform is public financing of elections.
Even some business leaders are joining the fight for public financing. The day after the court ruling changed the political landscape for the 2010 midterm elections, 40 current and former corporate executives sent a letter to members of Congress through a group called Fair Elections Now, urging them to approve public financing for House and Senate campaigns.
The 40 signers said they are tired of being hit up for campaign donations, and they fear the requests will only intensify after the court reversed the restriction on the corporate purchase of politicians.
There is legislation, The Fair Elections Now Act, already introduced in the House and Senate. The proposal blends small donor fundraising with public financing to reduce the need for major contributors. The proposal has about 140 co-sponsors in the House. In the Senate, there are five co-sponsors.
The bill, HR 1826, has quite a few provisions. Candidates meeting certain requirements would qualify for public funds raised voluntarily from taxpayers through a check-off on their tax returns. It would allow matching payments for small campaign contributions. It also would provide vouchers for political advertising and would require a certain number of public debates. All the provisions of bill are on the Internet.
(By the way, when he was a senator, President Obama was a sponsor of the Fair Elections Now Act.)
Neither of our senators are currently co-sponsors. Gerry Connolly and Tom Perriello are the only two Virginia representatives who are co-sponsors of the legislation. One grassroots action this situations calls for is contact with our senators and representatives, urging support for the bill.
Do I think the legislation will pass this Congress? No, especially not in the Senate. However, at the very least, it should be used as an election issue in 2010. It taps into the populist anger at the purchase of our legislators by big money, and it has long been a progressive goal.
I am also hopeful that someone will introduce legislation requiring a shareholder vote before corporate money is used to influence elections. After all, in spite of how they act, the top managers of a company don't own it. The shareholders do.