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Corporate Money in Politics

January 22, 2012

At church lately, a lot of people have been echoing the grousing of the 99% that “corporations are people”.  This is usually in relation to political speech roiled by the recent Supreme Court ruling in “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission“, its affect on McCain-Feingold, and the general feeling that “politics is all about money”.

As an aside – the concept that “corporations are people” is a bedrock principle and is well understood and supported both by the courts and common law.  I will ignore the fact that “the 99%” don’t understand how capitalism works and just address what they are really complaining about.

Originally, I felt that McCain-Feingold was an imperfect, but reasonable, compromise in its attempt to prevent corporations and unions to finance political advertisement near an election.  Of course, the devil is in the details, and the “Citizens United” ruling dealing with a movie (a very political movie, but a movie nonetheless) exposed one such detail.

The movies in question?  The ‘left-wing flame-bait’ Farenheit 9/11 (by Michael Moore) and the ‘right-wing flame-bait’ Hillary: The Movie (by Citizens United).  The case was about the advertisement and broadcast of the latter movie around the time of an election.

In other words – this was a first-amendment case.

During arguments before the Supreme court, the government (the FEC side) did admit that McCain-Feingold (and a related decision ‘Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Congress’) would allow the government to ban the sale of a book before an election. Originally reading this DID raise my eyebrows about McCain-Feingold.  After all, the advertising for the book, and probably even the conveyance could be construed as a political contribution financed by the corporation (consider the free shipping of your Amazon book, does that subsidy count as a political contribution?).

Now, all this has me in a tizzy.  On one hand, I believe that since corporations are taxed and otherwise affected by the government, they should have a say.  I figure we should consider giving them a single vote like any other citizen, and the $2500 direct campaign limit, like any other citizen (a topic for another day).

However, the unlimited amounts a corporation can spend in politics has me (and just about everybody else) concerned.  This is not the typical “Joe’s Plumbing” or “Google” donating $50,000 to some party or candidate.  This has evolved into single-purpose corporations, so-called “political action committees” (PACs and Super-PACs), which aggregate and channel vast sums of money.  So we don’t have a board of directors to complain to (like Joe the plumber or Larry Page).

But the difficulty is back in the details, what exactly separates a corporation from creating or broadcasting blatant political advertisement from ‘normal’ business acts like advertising a book or movie.  Consider the quandary, NetFlix will have to pull  Mr. Smith Goes to Washington from the play-list because we are within 60 days of a general election?

Hopefully the laws can come up with some reasonable compromise that both does not squash free-speech nor make it impossible for business to happen.

Of course – we all have to remember that We The People are the ones VOTING, not the corporations.  If the voting public attempt to honestly and clearly understand and evaluate the candidates, the impact of all the advertising money will be minimized.

In short – the solution to the current Super-PACs is an eternally vigilant electorate.

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