The Supreme Court’s Citizens United holding that corporations and individuals should have the same degree of political speech rights set off a firestorm of criticism from both the right and the left. A significant degree of that criticism is well-founded. By ruling that corporations and unions can spend unlimited amounts from their direct accounts in the political process the Supreme Court gave de jure acknowledgement that capitalism has replaced democracy as the reigning ideological framework guiding law and policy.
But could this be a classic case of political overreach, this time by the corporate elite? A recent poll by the People For the America Way suggests that just might be the case. According to the results, Americans of every political persuasion are firmly opposed to the decision and want to see Congress take action. As a whole, Americans, including a majority of Republicans and conservatives, believe that corporations have too much influence in elections and want to see limits on corporate campaign expenditures. In fact 73% believe Congress should be limited in how much they can spend to influence elections.
The results get to specifics that reflect a growing disgust with the corporate robber barons profiteering while most Americans struggle. 87% of those polled supported campaign spending limits on bailout recipients and 75% believe that a publicly traded company should get shareholder approval before spending money in an election.
Many of these impulses are legislatively possible–like requiring shareholder approval for certain kinds and amounts of political expenditures, for example. And efforts are underway in many states to make those kinds of requirements for local enterprises. But at best the response has been scatershot and localized, which, in the legislative process, only results in unduly complex and confusing rules with questionable benefit. And that’s without Congress stepping in.
But it is refreshing to hear someone like Senator Schumer pledge to introduce legislation aimed at limiting the impact of Citizens United because the kind of regulation needed to address the impact of corporate influence in the election process has to, as a matter of efficiency and constitutionality, ultimatley come from the federal level.
That said, it would be more refreshing to hear a conservative voice at the forefront of pushing back against interests that dilute the power of the individual. This populist outrage uniting both the left and the right has the possibility to be more than politically powerful in the short-term. If Congress fails to act, it has the possibility to cede permanently the idea that this country is a democracy first and a capitalistic economy second.
Let Congress know your democracy is not for sale. Head over and add your name to the Care2 petition now.
photo courtesy of stephen.moore via Flickr