The 2010 Supreme Court ruling in favor of Citizens United against the Federal Election Commission has certainly been controversial. Those in favor of the ruling simply argue the ruling is a victory for freedom of speech and the freedom to raise unlimited campaign funds. The fact that unions, non-profits, and corporations are now viewed as ‘citizens’ has critics of the ruling up in arms. The real controversy however is that the ruling has severely undermined our democratic election process.
Writing in the Boston Globe recently, Tom Kean raised some interesting points about how the decision will shape the future of our election process. Since the ruling became law in January 2010 it’s already had a hugely detrimental impact on our once democratic election process. The rapid rise of super PACs has resulted in us seeing and hearing a lot more political advertisements and negative campaigning — funded by special interest corporations that have agendas to promote. Both sides of the political divide have already called on their donors for help, but interestingly there has been strong criticism of the ruling from both the Democrats and the Republicans.
It’s fair to say our once great democratic election process is now simply an unlimited corporate propaganda machine. How easily the electorate will be swayed is another question, a question which will be tough to answer — that is, until the corporate propaganda becomes a legal scandal. Keane’s article in the Globe carries quotes from both sides of the party divide criticizing the ruling. Keane reported the president of Common Cause, Fred Wertheimer, saying the ruling paved the way for “unprecedented opportunities for corporate ‘influence-buying’ corruption.”
It’s difficult to forget President Obama’s condemnation of the ruling in his 2011 State of the Union address, but interestingly even senior Republican figures were quick to voice their disapproval. According to the Globe, Senator John McCain said “I’m ashamed of the United States Supreme Court” and Maine Republican Senator Olympia Snowe was quoted as saying the decision was a “serious disservice to our country”. The 2012 presidential election now looks like it will be fought from the boardroom rather than the sidewalk. How easily the voters will be swayed by unlimited campaign finance from corporations with their own agendas to promote remains to be seen, despite the fact that we won’t hear about about their real agendas.
After picking Sarah Palin to be his running mate back in 2008 John McCain certainly knows a thing or two about shame, but when even the Republicans say the Supreme Court decision was a bad one it does make you wonder what direction our once great democratic election process is headed. In an ideal world the Democrats would’ve come out and said something along the lines of ‘the citzens united decision simply makes a mockery of our democratic process, so we’re not playing ball, we’re going to carry on just like before’ but unfortunately money talks and money influences people. As we head towards becoming a plutocracy rather than a democracy maybe all we can hope for is transparency, and that the undecided electorate are smart enough to vote for the Democrats – it’s better to live in hope than fear.