At the heart of the U.S. Supreme Court case Citizens United v. FEC was "Hillary: The Movie" (the trailer for which is shown above). The ruling would allow corporations to pour unlimited amounts of their treasury into elections, including in the production of videos like the one above.
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Are Corporations People, Too?
How a Supreme Court ruling could open the floodgates to corporate cash in elections
By Damon Circosta
Published: Jan. 25, 2010
RALEIGH - Last week the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion that radically alters the way elections can be funded both federally and in North Carolina.
The case, Citizens United v. FEC, permits corporations to spend freely in order to influence elections. It doesn’t matter if the corporation is large or small, based here in the U.S. or in a foreign country. In a 5-4 decision, the court essentially ruled that when it comes to money and politics, corporations have rights no different than you and me.
The decision doesn’t affect just how campaigns are funded. In a strange way, this decision redefines what it means to be human. Corporations don’t live and breathe and they cannot run or serve in office. But in giving corporations First Amendment rights, the court has bestowed an equality to them that doesn’t make much sense.
Although the word “corporation” stems from the Latin for “form into a body,” they aren’t living things. They are creatures of the state. From a legal perspective, corporations are fictional stand-ins that were created to help facilitate the movement of capital.
It makes sense for society to have corporations because it lets us pool resources and share dividends. The fiction, however, only goes so far. We don’t let corporations get married or adopt kids. And if a corporation breaks the law, it is the real human beings behind the corporation who go to jail. It’s not as if we stick some corporate charter behind bars.
The Supreme Court likely was not out to change our concept of what is human and what is not. Its decision last week had little to do with biology and a whole lot more to do with economics.
Elections are a big business. Since the Watergate scandal, reformers have been trying to curb the corruption that can occur when mixing money and politics. On the other side of that fight are those who wish to benefit from the favors that come from generous contributions.
The reformers were making some slow but steady progress. In 2002, Congress passed the landmark Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, otherwise known as McCain-Feingold.
In 2003, the Supreme Court blessed those reforms by holding the legislation to be constitutional. No one was claiming that our elections were free of influence, but thanks to the law, some of the most egregious excesses were gone. Progress was being made, but one should never underestimate the power of concentrated wealth.
In 2007, after the departure of moderate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the Supreme Court began to take a much harsher view towards campaign reform. In a string of cases the court turned back the clock on the very same reforms it had blessed just a few years earlier.
Most everyone is in agreement that this latest ruling is a seismic shift to the political landscape and that corporate dollars will be playing a front-and-center role in our elections. Some have even joked that our legislators will sew sponsorship patches on their suits like NASCAR drivers, naming legislation after companies, such as: “Health-care reform brought to you by Pfizer.”
As living, breathing citizens (not their corporate fictional counterparts) our only hope is to use our First Amendment rights to speak out. It might be difficult for our legislators to hear us with all those corporate dollars drowning us out, but there are still many good public servants willing to listen to their constituents.
Surprisingly, some of the very corporations who were granted fictional personhood also see the folly in this Supreme Court decision. In the aftermath of the ruling several CEOs sent a letter to Congress asking it to enact public campaign financing. They see this dash for cash as a long-term problem, even if they might reap some short-term benefit.
Indeed, in its decision to craft “people” from corporations, the Supreme Court may have created a Frankenstein’s monster that will menace our democracy for years to come.