Money Talks (and Swears)

The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, gave corporations, unions and individuals First Amendment rights to donate unlimited amounts of money to buy political ads for candidates without disclosure. Meanwhile, corporate fat-cats, whose corporations are created by government, rant and rave against government and condemn government creation of public sector jobs programs for the poor and unemployed.

In Citizens United the five conservative justices composing the majority said, “… this court now concludes that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or to the appearance of corruption. That speakers may have influence over or access to elected officials does not mean those officials are corrupt. And the appearance of influence or access will not cause the electorate to lose faith in this democracy.” Can we keep faith in a government whose highest court makes such an absurd comment about big bucks being spent by “speakers” sponsored by the US Chamber of Commerce and other special interests who lobby government for corporate and big moneyed interests? The Chamber’s lobbyists led the defeat of the Disclose Act to close the loopholes created by the Citizens United decision.

Foreign corporations contribute money that goes into a Chamber of Commerce fund used to pay for political ads to defeat candidates who do not tow the line for their profits over people agenda. Playing key roles in the effort are Karl Rove who was George W. Bush’s political hatchet man and the late Lee Atwater’s protégé, and Ed Gillespie, former Republican National Committee Chairman and another Bush advisor. They are involved with a group called Crossroads GPS and its associated organization, American Crossroads. The groups are running ads in key Senate and Congressional races and are trying to raise $52 million for ads in the November elections

The Court’s conservative majority of justices were appointed by conservative politicians in the White House and confirmed by conservative US Senators who owed much of their political success to wealthy contributors and corporate interests. The history of corporate influence and control of our government is depressing.
In the 1886 case of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company the U.S. Supreme Court “ruled” that corporations are “persons” and have the same rights as human beings based on the 14th Amendment, which was intended to protect the rights of former slaves. However, in the decision itself the Supreme Court never ruled on personhood, but a former railroad president named J.C. Bancroft Davis who was the court reporter put the “ruling” in the decision’s headnote:

“The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does.”

Headnotes are not law but subsequent cases dealing with the issue accepted the headnote as precedent to give corporations rights under the Fourteenth Amendment like natural persons. Justice William O. Douglas’s later lamented that, “corporations were now armed with constitutional prerogatives.”

The Buckley v. Valeo decision in 1976 said donations could be restricted as potentially corrupting, but there should be no ceiling on expenditures since that could be like limiting speech itself (money equals speech). The McCain-Feingold law in 2002 closed a loophole that allowed companies to spend money “independently” just before elections designed to defeat targeted candidates, but that loophole was re-opened with Citizens United. The Court struck down the provision of the McCain–Feingold Act that prohibited all corporations, both for-profit and not-for-profit, and unions from broadcasting “electioneering communications” that mentioned a candidate within 60 days of a general election.

Ironically, government initiatives that would put people to work rebuilding our infrastructure are condemned as socialism by the plutocrats of corporate America. In an Orwellian twist the money magnates would have us forget that corporations are created by government statutes. Government limits their personal liability for acts perpetrated by them under the auspices of their corporations.

Corporations would not exist if government statutes did not allow them to make profits and shield shareholders from liability if the corporation is caught stealing, or otherwise damaging people. Corporate employees, including CEOs and other officers of a failing corporation can lose their jobs but are not personally liable to the corporation’s creditors for their mismanagement. Corporations control the system that creates them by making campaign contributions to our elected officials, and by lobbying and influence peddling. Hiring relatives and staff of members of Congress also helps the big money interests to manipulate our government. Such tactics have enabled them to water down attempts to regulate their out-of-control greed that caused the worst economic recession since the great depression.

Democracy dies when corporations are given the rights of human beings and corporate bribery becomes free speech.

TOM TURNIPSEED is an attorney, writer and peace activist in Columbia, SC. His blog is