Corporate givers better get used to sunlight

By Ed Garvey, The Cap Times

A splash of cold water? I am thinking about the outrageous Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United. The court was not obligated to review that case. The “activist five” reached out, grabbed our democracy by the throat, and began to squeeze the life out of our system with that awful decision. The court’s ruling that corporations can’t be limited in politics is an absurd notion, but what can we do? We must do something or we will certainly witness the death of democracy. If ExxonMobil is permitted to “donate” $20 million to defeat Sens. Russ Feingold, Tom Harkin or Bernie Sanders, our goose is cooked.

The court majority tried to give control of our system to corporate America but they may have stepped into a huge cow pie. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, daddy to Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, announced it will spend $50 million on midterm elections for Congress. Suppose they drop $20 million to defeat Feingold. The court held that “we” the people may not limit the amount of money corporations can spend in supporting or trying to defeat candidates. Gasp! But not even conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, whose philosophy triumphed in Citizens United, can limit our anger. And there is ample evidence that there is lots of anger.

If the hospitals, big banksters, and oil companies follow the chamber’s lead, we could be looking at a catastrophe in politics as big as the environmental disaster from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but these hungry corporations may stir up a firestorm that could result in payback.

The fact is there really hasn’t been much of a limit on corporate spending in politics for years. True, corporations have been prohibited from giving directly to candidates, so they gave the money to front groups and then hired expensive lawyers to keep their identity hidden. Clever but gutless. They want influence but not anger directed at them. They like the shadows, but I predict Congress, at minimum, will demand transparency. Corporate givers better get used to sunlight.

Since the Citizens United ruling, people understand that democracy could be overrun by corporations like AIG, Monsanto, BP, Goldman Sachs — every corporation, foreign or domestic, could use shareholder money to defeat our agenda. Suddenly people are asking how we can tame the beast and one answer is allowing the not-so-wealthy to meddle in the corporate elections as they meddle in ours. John Bonifaz and Maryland Congresswoman Donna Edwards have another solution: a constitutional amendment barring corporations from contributions to candidates. They will be at Fighting Bob Fest to enlist you in their army of reformers. Jim Hightower and Matt Rothschild of The Progressive have a broader amendment — and you can choose at Bob Fest. But you should choose.

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin believes in helping shareholders by passing “proxy access” so that shareholders can more easily raise hell with corporate meddlers; others want to require shareholder approval before a BP or Monsanto can contribute to campaigns.

The message to corporate America: Keep your wallet out of the people’s business. If you try to buy elections you must do so in the sunlight and you will have earned the anger of your customers: the voters.

I think the court might have splashed cold water in our face. Thanks, Scalia. We get it.

Ed Garvey is a Madison lawyer, political activist and the editor of the fightingbob.com website. [email protected]

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