From the Crow's Nest / Ed Chrostowski
Campaign funds ruling puts voters on alert
Published 1:04 am, Thursday, February 11, 2010
"Obama and the Supremes" sounds like a popular Motown singing group, but their tune is not even nearly harmonious.
Obama is, of course, Barack, our President, and he has been highly perturbed, as we all are, by the Supremes, the justices of the nation's highest court who by a 5-4 vote have diminished a cornerstone of American democracy, the power of an individual's ballot.
The blockbuster ruling by the Supreme Court held that corporations can pump as much cash into political activity as they wish because they are entitled to the same First Amendment rights of free speech that individuals enjoy. Dissenting justices, the President and many others feel the decision threatens to undermine the integrity of elections because corporate cash, hence influence, would swamp the will of ordinary voters.
Disagreements between presidents and the Supreme Court are not without precedent, of course, but rarely has one been played out in such a public arena. As both houses of Congress, assorted government officials and a television audience of millions looked on, President Obama scolded and scowled at the black-robed justices seated in the front row. And Justice Samuel Alito very visibly mouthed the words "not true" during the President's criticisms.
While that didn't sink to the level of the "you lie" shouts of Congressman Joe Wilson (R-South Carolina) during an earlier Obama speech, it was a tawdry breach of decorum on both sides. And it was an indication of just how great the divergence in ideologies has become and how passionate advocacy, liberal or conservative, really can get.
But why the hissy fit? What else is new on the political front? Cash always has been an outsized factor in election campaigns despite all "reform" efforts to limit and regulate it. Businesses, industries, labor unions and organizations with vast resources, like the National Rifle Association or the Planned Parenthood League, always have exerted disproportionate pressure and influence that is beyond the means of the "little guy." Their well-funded lobbyists and public relations campaigns continue to manipulate voters' opinions, sometimes on candidates and sometimes on government policy. Big bucks always played a big role in politics.
Yet, there is no doubt that the Supreme Court has opened the taps wider to permit political cash to flow even more freely. Despite an age-old quest, balanced power in the electorate continues to be elusive and will now be even more so.
The onus, then, falls on the voter. It has become increasingly important to recognize self-serving pressures and to know who is funding which causes or candidates and how the recipients of that financial support are reacting. Are they blindly following the wishes of their backers? When is it and when is it not in the best interests of the public? Thus informed, voters can make their own assessments, not swayed by well-heeled special interests. In the final analysis, then, is that any different from the responsibility voters had before the Supreme Court's ruling?
Perhaps of greater concern is the Supreme Court's eagerness to impose its will on the electorate and governmental processes. The case before the court was far narrower than the scope of the ruling. At issue was whether an incorporated non-profit group acted within the law when it financed a political film (attacking Hillary Clinton in 2008) from its own treasury rather than through a political action committee. The court over-reached, expanding its decision to include any limitation or distinction on corporate spending rather than ruling on just the case at hand.
There may yet be further repercussions from the majority's opinion that corporations have the same constitutional rights as individual voters. Will corporations and organizations be able to vote? Should they determine the positions of their stockholders or members, who after all are really their owners, before filling a candidate's campaign treasury?
Activist justices are in effect subverting a law that has been on the books for decades. While strictly regulating direct corporate spending in support of or opposition to specific federal candidates, the law does not prevent members or stockholders in incorporated groups from forming political action committees that can raise and spend money at will. That law has stood the test of time. Are activist justices bent on rewriting it and wouldn't that usurp the prerogative of the Congress?