Buying democracy

During comment time at council meetings, Councilman Jason Wiener often reminds folks of upcoming workshops and community gatherings. Not this week. The Ward 1’er took on the U.S. Supreme Court, blasting its decision in Citizens United v. the FEC.

I wanted to post his speech here. In an email, Wiener said he spoke off the following notes, but they are not verbatim. (I’m in search of a link to the audio — know I can get it but don’t remember where.) Wiener’s message below:

“It’s not often that matters of constitutional law merit mention during these comments. Sadly, events last week have changed that.

On Thursday, a bitterly divided Supreme Court handed down a ruling that threatens the integrity of democracy. Five justices ruled that corporations may, without limit, spend money to elect and defeat candidates for public office–striking down the bipartisan federal legislation that created such limits and overturning long-established precedent when the question the court was presented with did not even require such activism.

The ruling, in one sense, continues a long line of absurdity: corporations are deemed persons and not recognized as the mere creatures of law they are. And the ruling ignores that corporations are, by laws mandating fidelity to fiduciary duty, entities with no capacity for empathy, patriotism or any other human emotion. Corporations have the single purpose of accumulating wealth.

And yet, the decision is radical, overturning a ban on corporate influence of elections a century old. A ban that grew from a time when corporations controlled an even greater portion of our nation’s wealth, if that is possible to believe. A ban that grew, if it is possible to believe, from a time when corporations exerted even greater control over policies made by governments elected to serve the public interest.

The Supreme Court has invited the swamping of democracy.

Some perspective: All the elections waged in 2008, from the presidency to the state legislatures to county clerks consumed about $5 billion. Goldman Sachs made that much profit–after bonuses–in the last three months of 2009. My campaign for city council cost less than $5,000. That’s a rounding error on the balance sheets of many corporations we are charged with oversight and regulation of.

This decision is an invitation for overreaching in the baldest self-interest. We must roll it back.

Corporations are not people.

Money is not speech.

The Bill of Rights is a Bill of Human Rights.

Americans have had to reverse court rulings similarly destructive of the republic by constitutional amendment. I expect that is the ultimate remedy here.

So, people at home, call your Senators and Representative and tell them so. In the coming weeks, I will ask this body to do the same.

Referring to the intent of the founders has become a common form of argument, popular even with members of the Court who style themselves as aiming to discern the original intent of the Constitution’s framers. America’s founders had an opinion on the subject of how corporations relate to popular governance. Thomas Jefferson, though he did not sign the Constitution, had plenty of investment in our nation’s earliest days and had this to say:

‘I hope we shall… crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and to bid defiance to the laws of our country.’

That was 200 years ago. The battle is joined today.”

It wasn’t the only excitement at the council meeting, but it’s enough thrill for this post.

— Keila Szpaller

3 thoughts on “Buying democracy

  1. i’m not sure Jason has ever worked for a corporation, but they are made up of people. decisions are made by people. a corporation may be analogous to a machine but is not actually one – it needs human drivers. further, citizen’s united (the plaintiff in the case) is not exactly walmart, inc.

    if accumulating wealth is bad, i challenge jason to relinquish his paychecks. acquiring wealth is how we distribute goods and services, but if he has better idea…

    quoting slave holding white men regarding the evils of corporations seems a bit… wrong.

    money as speech relates to both humans and corporations – it’s not some unique interpretation for corporations. further, corporate contributions to candidates are stilled banned.

    mccain-feingold is not a long-standing act and most of it remains in place.

    government has no right to ban political speech simply because it changes peoples’ minds and we happen to dislike who or what is saying it. we should be more afraid of people in power who vigilantly pursue the banning of speech based on a their own political disposition and bias.

    i know i’m nearly as populist and commonsensical in my words, but, then again, that’s just not me.

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