The Court High Fives Corporate Cash

I am sure that it was not the intent of the five members of the conservative majority of the Supreme Court to throw President Obama a softball. In deciding to overturn the ban on corporate and labor union funding in political campaigns, they were too busy focusing on how best to address a long standing grievance of certain conservative politicians and legal scholars to notice that the immediate beneficiary of their decision would be the President.

It has long puzzled me that anyone would consider a corporation an individual. I suppose that corporations came along and one judge said to another judge, "How do we deal with these?" and it was decided that as a corporation is not the sovereign, it must be treated as an individual under the law. For all I know, the designation works in most cases, facilitating legal proceedings in which a corporation is involved.

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The founders, however, did not intend to drown democracy in corporate cash. In the same way as it is ridiculous to speak of "animal rights" if rights be the things we find discussed in the First Amendment and uniquely the provenance of humans, it is likewise ridiculous to attribute to a corporation the rights embodied in that amendment. Should corporations now have the right to register to vote? The majority of the Court, not for the first time and not for the last, decided it was capable of being ridiculous in assessing the effect of its intervention into the nation’s political life. Next thing you know, they will say that electoral legitimacy demands that votes not be recounted in a close presidential race – oops! Been there. Done that.

Not since the Court’s decision in Buckley v. Valeo in 1976, which overturned some of the campaign finance reforms enacted after Watergate, has the Court so aggressively set aside the expressed will of the political branches. The Buckley decision had the unintended consequence of giving rise to the modern political action committee or PAC. Independent PACs expanded from 110 in 1977 to 1,003 in 1985. Corporate PACs increased more than tenfold to 1,710 in 1985. The decision yesterday was at least candid about the exploitation it welcomes. There is nothing unintended about letting corporations spend unlimited amounts of money gaming the system.

With conservatives, I admit that the idea of incumbents deciding how campaigns can be run fills me with dread. But, there is no alternative. It would be one thing to intervene if a reform had been passed by one party over against another, if the reforms were designed to game the system for one party or another. But, allowing unlimited corporate money into the political process is surely, recognizably and obviously just as great a danger. And, in the event, the laws the justices were addressing were bi-partisan, which leads to the next point.

The reason the decision helps President Obama is this: Independent voters, the ones who backed Obama in 2008 and Scott Brown last Tuesday, want bi-partisanship. Indeed, almost by definition, a voter who is not affiliated with either party wants his or her political leaders to transcend partisanship as easily as they do. The problem for Obama was that the GOP has refused to dance with him on virtually any issue. They say they felt locked out of the negotiations on health care but their "solutions" to the health care crisis were not solutions. News flash: Tort Reform will not cure the health care crisis in America. They say they want to focus on the economy, but they oppose the kind of direct government spending that would actually stimulate the economy, preferring tax cuts that will do nothing to produce a single job.

But, campaign finance reform has a following in both parties. Indeed, the most famous recent instance of campaign finance reform was the McCain-Feingold bill. So, yesterday, after the decision, President Obama and Sen. McCain both took to the airwaves to denounce the decision. The visual alone gave Obama something he needed, to be seen standing not just with Democrats on an important issue. Over the long term, he and other progressives are likely to be hurt by the court’s decision but in the short term, it gave the President a chance to link arms with his opponent from the 2008 election, to transcend the partisan sniping. And, it gives him an important issue on which to show the nation, and especially those Independent voters, that sometimes you need Big Government to check Big Business. Letting the titans who wrecked Wall Street purchase Pennsylvania Avenue is not the path to the freedom aimed at by the First Amendment the Court said it was trying to protect.

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james belna
7 years 10 months ago
I invite Michael Sean Winters, and anyone else who might be interested, to glance down at the bottom of this webpage. You will notice that the content of this website, including not only this blog but all of the articles and editorials, are the product of a CORPORATION - to wit, ''America Press Inc.'' I would be interested to hear what principled distinction Mr Winters would make between America Press, which expends its ''corporate cash'' almost exclusively for the purpose of influencing the political process, and every other corporation in the United States. My guess is that he will not favor us with a reply.
7 years 10 months ago
This is in response to Mr. Fueyo's ''exchange'':
1. The only idea I have heard proposed from the Republican Party is tort reform. I addressed that above. The administration was willing to include some measure of such reform, as part of a negotiation. Minority Whip Cantor did not wish to negotiate and never proposed any form of compromise. So there are no Republican ideas to incorporate.
- Actually John McCain proposed 2 additional significant reform ideas, 1 of which you mention and dismiss briefly: 1) buying insurance across state lines & 2) removing the tax credit for employers who provide insurance & instead providing a tax credit to individuals purchase their own health insurance.  Completely contrary to your assertion (provided with no evidence) that neither of these will ''reduce costs'', these 2 proposals could significantly decrease costs by allowing for true competition (and eliminating the need for a tremendously expended & unfunded public ''option'', which would in reality quickly become the norm) and empowering individuals and families as consumers to drive the market.  It would also provide the Democrats with one of their favorite goals: eliminating one of the most costly and expensive tax loopholes ever created.  Unfortunately, the employer tax credit has never been seriously considered because, as usual, the big unions totally oppose it, and as we saw with the ''special deal'' the Obama Administration cut with the unions to keep their cadillac health plans un-taxed, their ''special interest'' gets their way.
2.That is not to be overly judgmental, although I do find it morally objectionable. I think the simple fact is that as a matter of political philosophy, the Republican Party opposes the two primary linchpins of health care reform - universal coverage and some form of cost containment.
- I fail to completely understand the first sentence.  However, your assertions regarding the philosophy of the Republican party is nonsense, at least with regard to the second goal of cost-containment.  The disagreement is not with either goal, per se (although I do question the need for healthy 20-somethings like myself who are struggling to build financial independence to be required to buy health insurance when we rarely go to the doctor and are, as a group, healthier than the rest of the popular).  The disagreement is with the means to achieve those goals.  Republicans believe (rationally) that targeted reforms to the market can be effective in achieving both goals.  Democrats, rather, believe the entire system needs to be re-built with significant government involvement.  As you say, on that tenet, there will be no room for compromise, nor should their be since the Republicans rightly judge that the American people do not like significant domineering government influence in their lives.  The history of health care ''reform'' should have taught Liberals this.  Alas, they seem to rather tell themselves the self-soothing narrative that voters oppose this plan because they A) don't understand it and B) the Republicans have mis-characterized and scared them into believing the proposal is something it is not.
3. One party may perceive short-term political damage in pretending this is not an issue to be faced, but that does not change the reality.
- I couldn't agree more with this statement, except I would reverse which party understands reality & which seeks only short-term gain.
 
 
7 years 10 months ago
As usual, cue the histrionics by Mr. Winters.  Let's take a look at some of the more, shall we say, questionable, errr....arguments?
 
''[A] long standing grievance of certain conservative politicians and legal scholars''.  FAIL.  The legal scholarship on this was done by Martin Redish at Northwestern, hardly a right-winger.  The case was also argu

ed in part by Floyd Abrams - the same right winger who argued and won the Pentagon Papers case.  
 
''The founders, however, did not intend to drown democracy in corporate cash.''  So NOW Mr. Winters wants to become an originalist?  What they did want was to protect political speech, especially aimed at incumbents.  And I should add that corporations largley donate to incumbents in BOTH parties.
 
''The majority of the Court, not for the first time and not for the last, decided it was capable of being ridiculous in assessing the effect of its intervention into the nation’s political life. Next thing you know, they will say that electoral legitimacy demands that votes not be recounted in a close presidential race – oops! Been there. Done that.'' I'm not exactly clear on what the argument here is, except a typical back-handed liberal snipe over Bush v. Gore.  So mildly ad hominem here.  If the objection is to the Court's ''intervention into the nation's political life'' isn't the effect of this exactly the opposite? If anything, it REMOVES the judiciary from the internecine circumlocutions that McCain-Feingold had fomented.  It was that statute that was the true intervention.
 
''Not since the Court’s decision in Buckley v. Valeo in 1976, which overturned some of the campaign finance reforms enacted after Watergate, has the Court so aggressively set aside the expressed will of the political branches.'' Uhhh, have you READ the Court's abortion jurisprudence?  Talk about disregarding expressed political will?  And on the anniversary of Roe, it would have been nice (and ''bipartisan'' shall we say) for you to offer a critique on that monstrosity of raw judicial power.
 
''With conservatives, I admit that the idea of incumbents deciding how campaigns can be run fills me with dread. But, there is no alternative. It would be one thing to intervene if a reform had been passed by one party over against another, if the reforms were designed to game the system for one party or another. But, allowing unlimited corporate money into the political process is surely, recognizably and obviously just as great a danger. And, in the event, the laws the justices were addressing were bi-partisan, which leads to the next point.''  Again, the whole POINT of the First Amend. is primarily to protect political speech aimed at incumbents!  I think its worse that the law was passed and ''gamed'' by INCUMBENTS.  That should terrify you more than corporations giving money, since in some ways they do that already.  As to your point about bipartisanship, I see one way in which this case could INCREASE bipartisanship.  As one pro

minent election lawyer wrote yesterday, this ruling threatens the existence of the political party was we know it.  If the parties have become more ideological pure in the last decades, couldn't this potentially be a good thing?  Bottom line: no one, least of all liberals, should fear MORE political speech, and, as the Court has held time and again, spending money on campaigns IS political speech.
Stanley Kopacz
7 years 10 months ago
If corporations are to be treated as persons, they must be classified as giant sociopaths.  They care only for there own growth, power and profit.  There may be cells of morality within the sociopathic corporate organism, but they are subdued and cancelled, like viruses by the organism's antibodies.
If a 400 foot tall organism like a Godzilla came upon our shores, we would dispatch it by dropping a bunker buster bomb on its head.  But to overgrown economic monsters, we give rights.
Rick Fueyo
7 years 10 months ago
As for corporations been considered natural persons for First Amendment purposes, I find that a bizarre stretch. Corporations are legal creations of the state, with perpetual existence and liability shields. To endow them with the rights of natural persons flips natural law on its head. The preamble refers to "We the people. . .." A truly indefensible ruling.

I also believe that Mr. Winters' post is a bit too fair to the opposition. Minority Whip Cantor has never disputed an account of his first meeting with President, in which the President offered to include tort reform in the bill in exchange for some concession from the minority. The President asked what the minority would concede in exchange, and Cantor indicated that he was not prepared to offer anything. So whatever value tort reform may provide, it was not excluded from the bill, and certainly would have been included had the minority wished to occupy any role in negotiating a reform.

As with deficit reduction, the GOP is perfectly willing to deal, so long as only their ideas are considered.
7 years 10 months ago
"They care only for there own growth, power and profit.  There may be cells of morality within the sociopathic corporate organism, but they are subdued and cancelled, like viruses by the organism's antibodies."
 
Would you mind providing proof of this "opinion"?  The vast majority of "corporations" in this country are mom & pop operations started to shield entrepreneurs from the travails of a legal system co-opted, by fat-cat plaintiff's lawyers like Mr. John Edwards (that scion of intergrity) who seek to squeeze profits for themselves in the name of the "the people".
 
"the GOP is perfectly willing to deal, so long as only their ideas are considered." If those ideas are winning, why not?  51% of the electorate of the Commonwealth of MA thought those ideas should be included and hence elected Scott Brown.  I guess its easier to rant and rave about the corrupting influence of money in politics (not, mind you, when Obama & liberals raise VAST sums of money from individuals on the internet (thats an expression of democracy at work) or fat-cat unions who then cut special deals for themselves) than to consider that your ideas are losing and completely unpopular.
Rick Fueyo
7 years 10 months ago
Mr. Landry:

You appear to enjoy the conflict. I have certainly been like that myself, but no longer do. But in the event I am reading it incorrectly, I will attempt to engage in a good faith exchange.

No doubt Tuesday's results in Massachusetts signal an intense electoral dissatisfaction with national health care reform as currently proposed. I do take exception to the suggestion that there are "ideas" from the Republican Party with respect to health care reform that could be meaningfully incorporated into the majority party's proposal. The only idea I have heard proposed from the Republican Party is tort reform. I addressed that above. The administration was willing to include some measure of such reform, as part of a negotiation. Minority Whip Cantor did not wish to negotiate and never proposed any form of compromise. So there are no Republican ideas to incorporate.

That is not to be overly judgmental, although I do find it morally objectionable. I think the simple fact is that as a matter of political philosophy, the Republican Party opposes the two primary linchpins of health care reform - universal coverage and some form of cost containment. Fair enough. That is their prerogative. And it may be a majority opinion, as more fully discussed below. But when one party cannot agree as a matter of philosophy to the primary tenet of the bill, there is simply not room for compromise. There was no possibility that a bill with cost containment measures and universal coverage would've ever been acceptable to any significant number of Republicans, no matter how much tinkering or compromising was done. So there are no ideas to incorporate.

As I noted, this may well be an aspect of our political culture not subject to modification. Twice in 16 years, some form of health care reform was deemed inevitable, and Republicans initially were inclined to participate in the process to shape the final bill, only to subsequently decide to oppose it outright. Both times, that has appeared to be a winning political strategy, at least at this time. I think the public views universal coverage is a form of undeserved entitlement. While I may disagree, that may be our political culture. But Let's not pretend there was something the parties could have agreed to. There simply was a fundamental difference of philosophy.

As I write this, I recall two other proposed reforms with the right - permit the sale of policies across state lines. That is not problematic in and of itself, but would do nothing to promote cost-containment or universal coverage. In fact, it is most likely to undermine both goals. Also, one cannot simply outlaw denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions absent a larger reform context. Credible right-wing economists have acknowledged this point. Requiring guaranteed issue was simply permit individuals to go without insurance until such time as they need it. That will destroy the economics of insurance, and will likely result in a de facto single-payer scheme. No insurer could offer remotely affordable coverage if they knew they would have to permit in someone at any time with immediate extreme costs. That's why the individual mandate was necessary.

If health care reform is defeated, we will just need to deal with the issue later, especially with an aging population. We cannot sustain the current cost increases. In fact, it's worse than that. We already pay almost twice per capita what other industrial democracies do for care, while covering less individuals and without any better results. One party may perceive short-term political damage in pretending this is not an issue to be faced, but that does not change the reality.

Peace, and may you remain in good health.
Bill Bordas
7 years 10 months ago
It is instructive to read the meticulously argued, 89-page dissenting opinion to the decision written by Justice Stevens. Some extracts appear on my blog, but the entire dissent is well worth reading for its excoriation of this wholesale sellout of the electoral process to the monied special interests.

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