The Supreme Court could say as soon as Monday that corporate executives are free to use huge amounts of corporate resources to directly influence elections. The vote will probably be 5-4 and we know which 5 and which 4 and why.
If this happens it will fundamentally change the way our elections are decided, our leaders are chosen, and our laws are made. The ruling will complete the transition, already underway, from a one-person-one-vote ideal to a corrupt one-dollar-one-vote system run for the benefit of those with the most dollars to throw into elections. And of course those with access to the most corporate dollars will use their new influence to increase their own dollars – and influence – at the expense of those with fewer dollars. Monopoly capitalism will be the New World Order.
It is simple to imagine how unlimited direct use of corporate resources will change our lives. Just for example, suppose executives at a chemical company want to save money by dumping toxins into a nearby river. Suppose a county or state government is trying to block this. Imagine the effect unlimited direct corporate money can have in a county or even a state election. Of course those executives will be able put in place a local or state government that lets them dump into the river. They probably will be able to get laws passed preventing their company from being sued for the resulting cancers. I know that this sounds pretty darn close to the political system that we have today but with direct use of corporate resources to influence elections the corrupting influence will be much more direct and corrosive.
This is not what some call corporatism and is not about companies making decisions, because companies don’t think or make decisions. This is about executives — people — at the helm of huge, powerful companies using the company’s vast resources to benefit themselves. This is at the expense of people in other, smaller companies. It is so important to understand that it is done by people – executives using corporate resources because companies are not sentient entities, no matter what anyone says. They don’t think and they certainly don’t speak. And it isn’t everyone in these companies. The people in Sales or Accounts Receivable don’t make the decisions, a few people at the very top do. In order to address this problem we need to understand that the actions of corporations are really the actions of a few people. Corporations don’t act or “do” anything, people do.
This is about monopoly capitalism. Of course executives in control of the biggest companies will use their financial power to consolidate their control over our system, for their personal benefit. Smaller companies in the same industries and startups that threaten to compete won’t stand a chance because the rules will be bent against them. If you think the oil and coal companies are hampering efforts control CO2 emissions and foster new alternative energy sources now, then just wait until the resources of giant companies are allowed to directly control our elections and therefore our government. If you think giant pharmaceutical companies are getting favors like unlimited patent life now, just wait until the Supreme Court opens up direct use of corporate resources.
So how did we get here?
It is difficult if not impossible for individuals to raise sufficient capital to enable large-scale projects that can cost millions, even billions to get started. So we developed corporations which areprivate legal entities designed to pool individual resources and accumulate vast sums, far beyond the ability of individuals to gather. The corporate legal structure enables large numbers of people to contribute to an effort. This also spreads the risk. Even if someone could raise the kind of money it takes to design and build a 747, why put all the eggs into one basket?
This legal structure was developed and is supported by our laws to benefit all of us. In fact, we even grant “limited liability” to the investors in corporations to encourage their development so investors are not responsible for the debts of a corporation. This is just one of many benefits granted to corporations by we, the People. We set up this structure to benefit us – why else would we have done it?
These pooled resources are supposed to be used only for business purposes, and the businesses are supposed to operate on a regulatory playing field that is set up by us. Corporate executives are only supposed to use corporate resources to run the business for the benefit of the shareholders. Some argue that use of their company’s money to influence the political system brings benefits back to the companies thereby benefiting the shareholders. But in this example influence comes with an expectation of gain which is just bribery and is therefore illegal. On the other hand, some claim that these companies only have our best interest at heart, and expect nothing but good government in return for their largess. Of course without direct corporate gain this use of corporate funds by executives is a waste of shareholder’s resources, and is therefore theft. Bribery or theft, which is it? Either way it is wrong.
Democracy developed in reaction to corrupt rule by wealthy and powerful interests for their own benefit at the expense of the rest of us. So it was recognized from the beginning that such pooled resources are a danger to the democracy we fought so hard to develop, and rules were put in place to prevent this from happening. But like the smallest leak in a dam, any use of corporate money to gain influence of course turns into greater and greater influence. The first bribe led to greater resources to use for a larger second bribe, and so on. As each bribe increased the influence of a wealthy corporate few eventually we ended up with a political party entirely dedicated to furthering the control of that wealthy few, to the point of appointing Supreme Court justices dedicated to that end. And here we are.
What can we do about this?
First of all, if by some miracle the Supreme Court doesn’t open up direct use of corporate resources in elections we must recognize how close we have come to losing democracy, and stop all use of corporate resources to influence not just elections but public attitudes as well. Even without the Supreme Court opening things up, we have been heading down this path for some time. We have to stop corporate resources from leaking out of the companies and affecting corporate rulemaking. This includes lobbying, which is really just bribery. Company resources will always be used to bring advantages to that company — over other companies and the rest of us.
If the governmental systems come entirely under the control of a wealthy few with access to the resources of giant corporations we are in a heap of trouble. But we have been here before, a century or so ago. A strong progressive movement can turn things around. We will need to develop strong public outreach from progressive organizations to help the public understand what is happening,. We will need to support labor unions as they fight to restore the ability of people to make a living and have some power and control over the workplace. And we will need to help people learn to fight the propaganda that is and will be thrown at us 24 hours a day.