10/20/2012

Citizens United: The Death Rattle of Jeffersonian Democracy

By Jamie York

Our Constitution and Bill of Rights is a model for people in developing countries around the world. And rightly so! It gives citizens -- we the people -- the power and authority over government. People everywhere dream of this. As do we, since the reality has never caught up with the dream.

Even so, in 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court dealt a major blow to the dream of democracy. In Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission, the high court ruled that corporations are persons, with the same First Amendment rights as living, breathing people. Corporations, which should still be considered artificial legal entities to conduct business on a limited scale, were given constitutional protection as though they were alive.

The ruling itself did not even have to mention personhood at all, but the effect of this ruling has been deep and profound, and may lead to our undoing as a nation. The main thrust of the ruling allows unlimited corporate spending to influence the outcome of our elections and, in these times, money means power. Any ruling, law, or a regulation anywhere that is perceived to threaten corporate profits can be weakened or overturned by corporate lawyers, even when those laws -- passed by legislative bodies of citizens -- are in place to protect real people and real communities. Corporations have very deep pockets -- far, far deeper than individual citizens. And far deeper than citizens organized into labor unions.

How many citizens who work in factories, schools, hospitals, restaurants, and retail stores have the financial ability to create a fake organization and use its name in a political attack ad? A corporation certainly does. Individual contributors have long been able to do this under tax laws, but the difference now is that corporate funds may be used so as to not deprive corporations of their First Amendment rights. How many people can walk into a factory to address the workers and scare them into thinking that if they do not vote for a certain candidate, then they may lose their jobs? A corporate CEO has the power to do that. Multiply this by thousands of corporations and you will find that the United States Supreme Court has overthrown our government and replaced it with a corporate oligarchy. A government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich. Although political and economic terms have wide-ranging definitions depending on who you ask or where you look, it seems to me that the Supreme Court has opened the door for the fascist economic idea of state nationalism -- aka state capitalism or monopoly capitalism -- to take root and end Jeffersonian democracy.

Under state capitalism, government will exist only to serve the interests of the corporate profit state -- the rich -- and the freedoms and rights to self-government we so cherish will be abridged and even abolished. For many years, communism was supposedly the boogie man, the threat to freedom. This has been drilled into us in a great ironic play of misdirection. "It's the communists, not us," said the rich and super-rich. "The communists will enslave you, not us!" Who could have predicted we would be overthrown from within? Without a shot being fired!

Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, in a 1933 economic speech, defines state capitalism as "the bureaucratization of the economic activities of the nation." Mussolini said this bureaucratization "would lead inexorably into state capitalism, which is nothing more nor less than state socialism turned on its head." We are not there yet, but our high court has opened the door for this bureaucratization process to move forward.

The Citizens United decision must be overturned and our election laws and campaign financing laws must be changed, strictly regulated, and enforced to benefit individual voters. Take money out of the equation. Pass a new fairness doctrine so qualified candidates, including third parties, will have equal access to state their positions via the public airwaves and digital cable and satellite outlets as elections approach. For one example, maybe give each candidate a voucher for so many hours of advertising time to "spend" in any way they want beginning 30 days before an election. On state and local issues, and in state and local elections, both sides need similar equal access to electronic media in local markets. And remember, the airwaves still belong to we the people, not to those granted broadcasting licenses by the FCC.

To address the larger questions of citizenship and personhood, of rights and responsibilities, we need another Constitutional Convention -- and soon! The world has changed greatly since the 18th century and we need to preserve and expand democracy for flesh-and-blood citizens.

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