The Reasoned Review

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In These Corporate States

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The Supreme Court’s recent decision that corporations are allowed unlimited donations to their candidate of choice comes as a shock, but not a very jarring one. Yes, it’s awful to have it codified that “corporations are just like very rich individuals” and this somehow confers on them the right to buy elections – but we have been living under that assumption for a long time now. The decision’s technical significance is in declaring the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Act mostly unconstitutional. I wonder if anyone will notice?

A valiant effort to keep corporate dollars out of elections, the McCain-Feingold bill itself needed, ironcally, corporate sponsorship in order to pass. What came out was “finance reform” that looked good on paper, but proved ineffectual in practice. Corporate entities were nominally restricted to a donation of $2,300 per candidate. But in practice, this bill left a gaping loophole. Corporations could simply instruct their employees to donate to such-and-such candidate and then reimburse them the cost of the donation. Or they can set up “Political Action Committees”, and funnel the money through those. This sort of thing happened to an unbelievable scale in the 2008 election, and one need only peruse Mr. Obama’s Open Secrets page to see the extent. With this recent decision, our corporations can dispense with even that thinly-veiled subterfuge. I suppose the real benefit goes to our political class, who can demand ever-larger “donations” from the now-uninhibited corporations.

Tyler Cowen links to a marvelous piece of obscurantism in an effort to demonstrate how this just isn’t a big deal – which it isn’t, if you think corporations should be allowed to run the country. For the rest of us, however, this recent decisions codifies a trend we have dejectedly watched for decades.

Also, hat’s off to The Associated Press for at least having the guts to explain to the public what this means. Compare the Press and Washington Post headlines and opening paragraphs for this story:

The Washinton Post:

Headline: “High Court Shows It Might Be Willing to Act Boldly

The Roberts court ended its term last summer avoiding a constitutional showdown with Congress over the Voting Rights Act. But its first major decision of the current term might signal a new willingness to act boldly.

The Associated Press:

Headline (From the NYT): “Justices Block Key Part of Campaign Law”

WASHINGTON (AP) — A bitterly divided Supreme Court vastly increased the power of big business and unions to influence government decisions Thursday by freeing them to spend their millions directly to sway elections for president and Congress.

The AP headline could certainly have been stronger – the decision blocked a key part of campaign finance law – but I imagine the Times were the ones to muddle with the headline. Otherwise a strong opening with resonant phrases: “Spend their millions directly to sway”, “bitterly divided Supreme Court”, etc. In once sentence it tells us everything we need to know.

Compare this to the work of Mr. Robert Barnes of The Washington Post. His opening tells us nothing. “might signal a willingness to act boldly”? Give me a break. But seeing that The Washington Post has repeatedly opined in favor of corporate control of elections, I suppose one can hardly be surprised.

This sorry episode is one lost battle in a larger debate on “free speech” and what constitutes an “individual”. Is bribery free speech? Are corporations individuals? According to the supreme court, yes and yes.

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Written by pavanvan

January 22, 2010 at 11:04 am

One Response

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  1. I have to agree with you completely.

    This is legal bribery. As long as a firm perceives that expenditures on bribery is less than the profit lost on a venture that could not take place without the help of bribery, they it will bribe. This just makes it much easier.

    Michael Pinto-Fernandes

    January 23, 2010 at 9:55 am


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