Archives for posts with tag: Montana

Good news from Washington today! Apparently, in recent days, they’ve upheld healthcare reform, refused to let Congress double the rates on student loans, and passed a Transportation Bill that’ll make our roads better. Nancy Pelosi was practically weeping with joy about the healthcare decision on television when I was watching today, and if the sight of someone so happy doesn’t make you happy, I dunno what does. In all, good for you, Washington!

Almost makes you want to forgive them for the Montana v. FEC decision.

Almost.

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I’m thinking of a word, and I can’t remember what it is.

Oh well, I’m sure it’ll come back to me.

Anyway, I have to admit, I’m not the best with politics. But occasionally an issue comes by that I find extremely compelling, and even though I can’t cite you numbers and dates, I can explain the situation in a way that is understandable if you, like me, prefer words to numbers.

An example is the Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court and the ensuing political chaos. The following is my attempt to explain the problem, in words, as simply as I can. (If you are very brave, you can read the actual Court’s decision, linked here.) It is a complicated issue, and greater minds than mine have discussed it at length and come to very different conclusions. In fact, this will probably end up being a series of blog posts, because this issue is a hydra whose every problem leads to three new ones. But here is my first attempt, a summary. Here goes.

Once upon a time, there was a non-profit organization called Citizens United. They made a movie about Hillary Clinton in 2008 (the election year), which, due to a previous ruling by the Supreme Court, was illegal because corporations were not allowed to use their funds for political purposes. So, Citizens United took the case to the Supreme Court, who decided in Citizens’ favor. The argument went like this: under the First Amendment, all people are granted free speech; free speech is necessary to sustain a democracy. Free speech is free speech no matter where it comes from. If you restrict free speech of anybody, even corporations, that is unhealthy for the democracy because it silences a voice. Therefore, corporations should be free to use their funds for any political purpose they wish.

In other words, have you heard of the expression ‘corporate personhood’? This means that corporations are legally considered to be people, subject to the same rights and freedoms as every other citizen under the Bill of Rights—including that of free speech. Spending, also, is a form of political speech, in that money can go to support a certain candidate or take down another. This is what the Court decided, and these are the conditions under which we have been operating for the past politically charged years.

Let me absolutely clear. Money is not speech, and corporations are not people.

If money was speech, everyone would have it. How do you counter speech? With more speech. With a better argument. With intellectual, engaging debate, and it is each person’s responsibility to participate in the dialogue. How do you counter money? With more money?! If I disagree with a corporation’s decision to pour a million dollars into a certain candidate’s campaign, is it my responsibility to respond with a million more?¬†The Founding Fathers gave us our right of free speech because they, like today’s Supreme Court, believed that every voice needs to be heard¬†in order to sustain a democratic republic, no matter where it comes from. Free speech has been the best, and I’d submit the most essential, part of the great American experiment from day one. I doubt our founders ever imagined that one day in our country ‘free speech’ would be interpreted as ‘the loudest voice wins’—ahem, I mean, ‘the¬†richest voice wins’. In fact, that is precisely what they were trying to prevent when they wrote the First Amendment.

If corporations were people, they would be subject to the same tax laws, as well as rights and freedoms, as are other people. Corporations are machines. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise. In a capitalist economy, corporations are machines run by people to make money and for no other purpose. Any first-year economics student will tell you that. People who try to spin the idea of corporations as people are thinking only of themselves; and yes, they may run the machine, but they are only running a machine and can claim no more personhood than that which they themselves naturally possess.

Let’s back up a bit here. Citizens United was a non-profit organization, remember? That means all its money was money that people¬†donated in the first place. People like you and me. Who knew that their money was going to a political purpose. Of course ‘corporations’ like that should be given free spending power—free ‘speech’—because they represent people and don’t simply exist to make money. The Supreme Court’s decision, therefore, was un-nuanced because it has a very broad definition of ‘corporation’ where there should be a distinction between for-profit and not-for-profit,¬†at least.

In February, it was revealed that Montana, of all fifty states in the Union, was the only one that already had a law in place for centuries that had prevented this Citizens United decision problem. They had experienced elections in the past that had gone to the highest bidder, and had declared it unlawful for corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns. Since this law went contrary to the Citizens United ruling, corporations in Montana who wished to buy the election asked the Supreme Court to strike down Montana’s law.

Which they did. Summarily. Without argument.

So much for states’ rights.

It is my wont to assume that people have the best intentions at heart, so here goes: In Citizens United’s case, I can see that it was about the First Amendment.¬†Corporations aren’t people, but this organization was run by a whole lot of people with a purpose other than making money.¬†Money isn’t speech, but it was used¬†by people¬†to make speech.¬†I’m sure that if I were a justice in the Supreme Court and Citizens United, a non-profit organization, came to me and pled for its right to publish controversial material as a matter of free speech, I, too, might have ruled in its favor.

But I will invoke the Law of Unintended Consequences. (That was not written by our Founding Fathers.) Because the Supreme Court failed to make a distinction between political organizations like Citizens United and money-making machines like oil companies, for example, its ultimate decision was un-nuanced. In effect the ruling gave free reign for corporations and groups not like Citizens United to, essentially, buy elections, by spending unheard-of amounts of money on advertisement and other support. From here on out.

Ohh, why can’t I remember that word, what’s that word I’m thinking of…

Oh yeah.

Corruption.