Home > pol > US Supreme Court decrees one dollar one vote

US Supreme Court decrees one dollar one vote

Not in so many words of course. But that is the impact nonetheless, so the 2.3 centuries of pretending that the system is all about one person one vote are over.

I can’t see any problems here…
Photo credits: Turkinator, Photos8.com

To see why, click on.

A little review of US legal history is in order:

In the beginning, there was a nice continent populated by natives living sustainably on the land. Then the Europeans came over and… oh wait, this is not a movie review site.

Well anyway, they Ctrl-Alt-Deleted the natives and set up the US constitution, which guaranteed equal rights, including voting rights* to all citizens of the rebel republic. This was a stark contrast to the English motherland, which only allowed voting by certain moneyed types (what we might now call “high net worth individuals with real estate”).

* means equal voting rights for all white males, of course. Slaves were valued at three-fifths of a man for the purpose of dividing electoral boundaries while women got no vote. It took about, oh, 180+ years to fix those bugs. Still, they were fixed in time to recently elect a President from among a black guy, a woman, some white guy and a Stepford fembot.

You have to hand it to those early Americans for being far-sighted when they drew up their social contract. For instance, here’s Thomas Jefferson in 1816:

England exhibits the most remarkable phenomenon in the universe in the contrast between the profligacy of its government and the probity of its citizens. And accordingly it is now exhibiting an example of the truth of the maxim that virtue & interest are inseparable… I hope we shall take warning from the example and crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country. (emphasis added)

Despite all of the elaborate checks and balances in the founding design of the US, Jefferson’s hope eventually crumbled with the rise of the early mega-corps, the trans-continental railroad companies. Here’s Collis P Huntington, one of the big 4 chaps in railways back then:

If you have to pay money to have the right thing done, it is only just and fair to do it. … If a man has the power to do great evil and won’t do right unless he is bribed to do it, I think the time spent will be gained when it is a man’s duty, to go up and bribe the judge. (emphasis added)

Okaaay, for certain values of “do right” I guess. Huntington’s contemporaries were those ethical paragons Andrew Carnegie and Leland Stanford, who, having made their ill-gotten fortunes managed to rehabilitate their Facebook rankings public images by donating chunks of it to “noble” foundations and universities. And now Bill Gates follows those time-honoured footsteps.

Anyway, back to the storyline. Episode 3: in 1886, the Supreme Court declared that corporations are people. Or maybe they didn’t, since the court reporter was an ex-railway company guy (see quotation on the top right of this blog). But if they did, it was an amazing piece of legal reasoning to go from “the 14th amendment to the constitution guarantees equal rights for blacks” to “the 14th amendment to the constitution guarantees equal rights to corporations”. Corporations, last I checked, were colourless or maybe arbitrarily coloured.

Now if corporations == people, and people have guaranteed freedom of speech, then corporations have guaranteed freedom of speech. Obvious logical conclusion.  So no law can be passed to abridge this corporate freedom.  And that’s what the Supreme Court has held – in particular, that corporations are free to spend as much of their own money on political ads as they want.

So now, since it costs money to speak (think advertising costs, which are the bulk of US politicians’ total campaign spending), the more money you have, the more freedom of speech you have. Can you see where this is leading? In fact the US did recognise the problems that such inequality of outcomes can produce, so they tried to restrict the level of political speech supported by corporations to make up for the original bad decision to treat corporations as persons in the first place. But these have now been swept aside.

The implications are as vast as the corporations’ cash holdings. As the commentariat has said, all they need to do next is allow Wal-Mart to run for President. Meanwhile, politicians need to be even more careful of upsetting their sponsors – they already spend more time on fund raising than constituency work it seems. If any elected representatives dare to bite the hands that already fed them by, for instance, supporting a law which is inconvenient for said benefactor, why then, all that’s needed is a little $100 million ad campaign to render him or her unelectable. [Like the way defamation suits are used in other parts of the world, ahem, but with more zeroes attached.]

The only way to fix this unholy mess is to limit political donations to a fixed amount per “person”, so a corp can have the same donation limit, through whatever channels, as an actual human: and maybe force the TV networks to run campaign ads for free as a condition of their license to exploit public communication infrastructure for oligopoly profit.

But hold on: any changes need to be passed by Congress, which as we’ve just established is bought and paid for by those who demand a return on their investment. Houston, we have a problem. The last hope then is to convince the (flesh and blood) voters that they need to demand action, march on Congress, flood the switchboard with angry complaints, and not stop until those reforms are passed. Probability: unfortunately low even though Obama has added his displeasure at the Court ruling to the chorus of others.

So why would you care about all this if you are not among the lucky 300 million or so US residents? Well, if you haven’t already noticed, the tentacles of the US politico-legal system are far more international than the typical American’s deliberately circumscribed circle of concern. Legal innovations start in the US and get propagated around the world through creative use of free trade agreement negotiations and other, shall we say, less-than-democratic tactics. Driven by those with the most dollars, er, votes, of course.

So thanks for getting to the end of this post: be sure to look out for the wonderful impacts of this absolutely logical, completely wrong decision coming soon to a jurisdiction near you.

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