Since the Supreme Court made its fateful 2010 decision in the Citizens United case, most Americans have come to agree with the cynical statement that “corporations aren’t people.” And most Americans – except that tiny fraction who wield all the power – would approve of a constitutional amendment to make it tougher to buy a congressman.
It’s far easier to buy a politician than it is to amend the U.S. Constitution, and for good reason. While the founding fathers intended it to be a living document that could respond to new circumstances as they arose, these men also realized they couldn’t possibly conceive of every scenario that might need shelter under its protective umbrella. Men like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, wealthy as they were for the time, probably didn’t envision the scope of influence huge corporations would have on politics, and how detrimental that would be to the public.
With its Citizens United ruling, the high court declared labor unions and corporations are protected, by the First Amendment, from government limits on political expenditures. This effectively rolled back elements of the McCain-Feingold Act, the campaign finance reform law that limited campaign contributions. McCain-Feingold was widely popular on both the left and the right, since for most Americans, the notion that unbridled spending corrupts is a no-brainer.
Although Citizens United insisted it wanted to “restore citizen control” over government and promote free enterprise, the average Joe citizen wound up getting crushed under the wheels of Big Business. Corporations began dumping untold millions into the campaigns of malleable candidates for Congress, with the expectation of results – and the investment has paid off.
If you need evidence, look no further than the so-called “Monsanto Protection Act,” quietly passed earlier this month to give this corporation carte blanche in the genetically modified foods arena. This rider did nothing for consumers except force them to buy products that may ultimately harm them, but it essentially guaranteed Monsanto’s bottom line – at least, for the time being. With enough pressure, that could change.
And it needs to. The ruling has brought forth dozens of shadowy groups, with nebulous connections and membership, who don’t have to release donor lists for public scrutiny – and all donating money to politicians to advance their own private goals. Most of the money has been spent on attack ads against candidates, and many of the messages border on libelous. Unfortunately, the public often buys into the lies, and votes accordingly.
A countermeasure might be found in the forthcoming American Anti-Corruption Act, which assumes all elected officials are corrupt unless they acknowledge support for the bill. More than 350,000 have given their blessing of online signatures. Proponents range from Tea Party Patriots to members of the Occupy Movement.
Among other things, the AACA would prohibit Congress from raising money from special interests they regulate; limit contributions from lobbyists and related individuals to $500; ban former members of Congress temporarily from becoming lobbyists; prohibit collaboration between individual candidates’ campaigns and super-PACS; force monthly disclosure by members of Congress about time spent on fundraising; and offer tax rebates for those who agree to contribution limits.
Organizers are ambitious in their desire to turn AACA into a constitutional amendment. They’ll need the approval of two-thirds of both houses of Congress, which is unlikely, since few folks who are corrupt will acquiesce to efforts to rein them in. A more likely alternative would be to convince two-thirds of state legislatures to call constitutional conventions. Then, three-fourths of all the legislatures would have to ratify, or hold individual conventions.
A tall order? Perhaps, but someone’s got to try, unless we want a handful of CEOs to make all our decisions for us. One thing’s for sure, for those of us who have read the writings of the founding fathers: Whatever those men had in mind with their cherished First Amendment, this wasn’t it.
If you’d like to get involved, go to anti corruptionact.org on the Internet.