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Grinding progress to a halt

Things are looking ugly in the political world, as efforts to benefit the greater public good are meeting stiff resistance from well-funded corporate proxies. Climate change and health care reform efforts in Washington have been heavily compromised by corporate lobbying and astroturf mobilizations, and the push for reforms to prevent another economic crisis is being battled by the very banks that were bailed out with public money. Corporate power over our politics is incredibly strong. Could it get any worse?

Believe it or not, the answer is yes, it could get much, much worse.

This fall, corporations could win even greater influence over our democracy if the Supreme Court decides that corporations have a constitutional right to spend unlimited amounts of money to promote or defeat political candidates. Progressive reforms that benefit the public interest over private profiteering would be drowned out in a system in which members of Congress could be bought and sold outright (check out our full background report here). The Friday, Sept. 4, edition of PBS’s Bill Moyers Journal will be devoted to in-depth discussion of the issue, so be sure to check it out.

The issue comes to a head on Sept. 9, when the Supreme Court will re-hear arguments in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Doug Kendall, founder and president of the Constitutional Accountability Center (CAC), relates on CAC’s blog the dire consequences of what could happen if the court makes a bad decision (emphasis added):

Citizens United is arguing that expenditures by corporations in elections should be treated identically to those of individuals. If the Court accepts this argument, it would do away with a distinction that has been in place in our Constitution since the Founding […] and allow corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money in elections. To appreciate how scary this change would be, consider that, according to the FEC, the Republican and Democratic parties combined spent slightly more than $1.5 billion between January 1, 2007, and December 31, 2008, while Fortune Magazine reports that the 10 most profitable companies during the same period earned combined profits of over $350 billion. This contrast reveals that unleashing even a tiny fraction of corporate profits — from just a handful of companies — could overwhelm the campaign system with money that represents the narrowest interests of private, profit-driven entities.

The real solution is to put into place a system that encourages unlimited small donations from voters and provides candidates with the option of forgoing private donations of more than $100 as a condition of receiving public funding.  If the Supreme Court does the worst, and if we don’t pass the Fair Elections Now Act , then the profound result from this case could be like the theoretical consequence Kendall wryly suggests: “President Palin, brought to you by Chevron.”

Our political system should move further toward the ideals of political equality and popular participation, not toward more deeply entrenched big business hegemony. Pledge to protest this potential increase in corporate power at www.DontGetRolled.org.