Ever notice how people seem to listen to you more if you have a bag full of cash? Tom Donohue of the US Chamber of Commerce sure has. Politicians and corporations have as well. But it used to be, prior to 2010, that giant multinational corporations couldn’t use their equally giant bags of cash to directly influence how people voted in elections. Unfair for corporations you say? A travesty of justice perhaps? Luckily for our favorite corporate interests the Supreme Court overturned hundreds of years of pesky electioneering laws in the 2010 landmark court case Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission. The court ruled that corporations, because they are considered individuals under the law like you and me, are fully protected by the first amendment of the constitution, and therefore should be able to spend as much as they want on political attack ads during elections. Now we all have free speech. You have free speech, I have free speech, Monsanto has free speech, all are equal- just like the writers of first amendment intended hundreds of years ago. And we can all freely spend our billions of dollars on political ads that support our own politics, thus bringing balance to the system.
But under this system it seems like some “individuals” have more free speech than others. ExxonMobil for example made $30.46 billion dollars in profit in 2010. That is a big bag of cash and thus, a lot of free speech. And now, if a politician does something Exxon doesn’t like (forcing them to clean up an oil spill or curb carbon emissions for example), Exxon can bankroll millions of dollars in political ads in support of an opponent. Most non-corporate “individuals” can’t do that. Does that sound like a government for the people and by the people to you?
Speaking of Tom Donohue of the Chamber of Commerce, he represents an important facet of the hazardous fallout from Citizens United. It may be that Exxon doesn’t want to alienate consumers by picking sides in a contentious political match. Instead, they funnel money to trade and advocacy groups, like Donahue’s Chamber or Tim Phillips' Americans for Prosperity, who can then attack an offending candidate in any manner they choose, without impugning ExxonMobil’s good name. In fact one of the most insidious and corrosive of all of the Citizen’s United case’s effects is to increase the funding (and therefore importance) of corporate front groups like Americans for Prosperity and the Chamber of Commerce, who do not reveal their funding and are not accountable to the public.
In all seriousness the Citizens United v. FEC court case erodes the foundations of democracy in America. The decision has made it much easier for private interests with enormous wealth – like the now infamous Koch brothers – to use their riches to align public policy with their business ideologies, to the detriment of social, economic, and environmental justice.
On August 11, 2011, The Story of Stuff Project has planned an online day of protest against the landmark Supreme Court Case Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission. To mark the occasion, the 11th has been named “the Day when $$ equals speech." Check out the short film explaining Citizens United and add your voice to ours and tell our government that it serves real people, not corporations.