Friday, February 5, 2010

Protecting the Planet from Corporate Influence

Late last month, a narrowly-divided Supreme Court ruled that corporations are people under the Constitution and should be able to spend unlimited amounts of money to sway voters to their way of thinking.

In 2009, corporations spent $3.3 billion lobbying Congress to influence legislation. Now they will be able to spend unlimited funds to influence electoral outcomes. Implicit in the high court decision is the view that there is no difference between corporations and people. The court's ruling also opens the door for non-American-based corporations to participate in the US electoral process. For more detailed information see the American Bar Association.

The problem is that corporate interests do not always coincide with the public interest. Entrenched industries have a vested interest in misrepresentation and deceit. Insurance companies defeated health care legislation and old economy interests like big oil plan to do the same to the climate change bill.

Environmental protection is contingent upon legislators ability to limit corporate influence on the electoral process. Main Street must be protected against the centralized power of Wall Street, small businesses must be protected against the authority of corporate power. Only Congress has the power to protect democracy from the overwhelming corporate influence allowed under the new Supreme Court ruling.

Recently Representative Alan Grayson has introduced a number of bills as part of a "Save Our Democracy" initiative. These bills include a 500 percent excise tax on corporate contributions to political committees, prevent for-profit corporations that receive government money from making political contributions, and apply antitrust law to industry Political Action Committees.

Yesterday, Senator Sherrod Brown published an article in which he reviewed his legislation known as "The Citizens Right to Know Act," It would inject a measure of democracy into corporate influence by requiring the shareholders to vote on a corporations election spending.

In the next few weeks the House and the Senate will be deciding upon a legislative package in response to the Supreme Court decision. "At times in our history the Supreme Court has stood as the champion of the rights of individuals when Congress, to its discredit, has shrunk from the task. Now, it is Congress' turn to vindicate the vision of the framers," Brown said.

Justice John Paul Stevens in his dissenting argument accurately sums up the problem for our electoral process going forward: "[The Supreme Courts ruling] that Congress must treat corporations exactly like human speakers in the political realm — represents a radical change in the law... The court's decision is at war with the views of generations of Americans."

The Team in partnership with CREDO Action have organized a petition to send a message to President Obama and the Congressional leadership. Encourage them to enact strong laws to save democracy from the pernicious influence of corporate money.

Recently, reform architect John McCain declared campaign finance reform "dead." Republican strategists privately concede that they feel they can gain more points by being obstructionist then they can through bipartisanship. In response, a petition from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) wants to send Republicans the message that "Powerful corporations should not be allowed to drown out the voice of the American people."

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