Thanks to the US Supreme Court's 5-4 January ruling that it is unconstitutional to limit corporate campaign contributions this year's elections are on pace to shatter previous election spending records.
There are expected to be as many as 100 competitive races for House seats as well as 37 races for governor this year and according to the Associated Press, the latest financial reports show that House and Senate candidates have already raised 1.2 billion dollars in order to win those races. This is far ahead of the pace of the past several record-setting elections and the money is pouring into the coffers of both Democratic and Republican candidates alike. Despite the rhetoric from both sides of the aisle surrounding the ailing US economy and the need for fiscal responsibility, both parties seem unwilling to spare any expense when it comes to investing in their own self-preservation. So, why even as the US economy continues to shrink is 2010 on pace to be such a record setting year?
Of course there is the fact that there is currently an especially bitter and divisive political climate within the United States, but that is hardly so different from any other election in at least the past decade. The more likely culprit is the Supreme Court’s ruling on January 21st of this year. The court ruled 5-4 that it was unconstitutional for the government to restrict corporate campaign contributions because they qualify as protected political speech under the first amendment. That historic ruling means that it is now open season for corporations and any other special interest group to give as much money as they see fit to any political cause. This does not mean we are going to see overt massive corporate donations and open corporate endorsements of political candidates. On the contrary, we haven’t seen this because most corporations are to afraid of the backlash that this might cause. To borrow from the Associated Press’ article:
"What we will see is corporations not wanting to anger their shareholders, not wanting to anger their retail customer by getting involved in partisan elections,” said Paul Ryan, a senior lawyer at the Campaign Legal Center. “Instead they will employ strategies to obscure the fact, or hide completely the fact that they are dumping money into politics by routing their money through groups like the Chamber of Commerce."
The best part of this arrangement for corporations is that many of these “independent” organizations like the Chamber of Commerce are not required to make their donors public. In this way corporations can keep money flowing into Democratic and Republican candidates in order to influence policy without fear of repercussion. The Federal Election Commission has not yet written any rules regarding how to apply the court’s decision, so for the time being there are none. Corporations and anyone else can effectively contribute to campaigns in secret and the sky is the limit.
It is worth making it clear that the court’s ruling does not just apply strictly to corporations. In fact, any individual or group can now give as much money as they like to political candidates, but the reality is who has enough money to give to really make a difference? The answer is millionaires, billionaires, and the corporations they own. It is impossible to trumpet the Supreme Court’s ruling as an expansion of human freedom when it is so obvious that the vast majority of Americans can hardly spare a dime. While companies continue to downsize, say they can’t afford to hire new employees, and balk about having to help pay for employee’s health care it seems that they still somehow have enough money to make 2010 a record year for campaign contributions.
Meanwhile the rest of us would only be able to scrape together the occasional twenty, fifty, or maybe even a hundred dollars to contribute to a political campaign if we wanted to- but how far would that get us compared to the millions corporations can afford to spend? Who’s going to continue to have even more pull in Washington than they have already?
The answer is as obvious as it is disheartening: electoral politics in the US is typically just going to keep benefiting the rich.
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