Corporate election financing is more about power than free speech

The ACLU is considering reversing its support of the Supreme Court Ruling allowing unlimited campaign contributions by corporations. It has long maintained that government regulation of campaign contributions violates the free speech guarantees of the First Amendment, equating financial support with speech.

When our founders crafted the Constitution, the primary power was the government, and they had just fought a war to free themselves from an oppressive government. They wanted to make sure their new domestic government wouldn’t pursue the same path of domination that the British government had. The First Amendment was intended to prevent concentrated social power — then primarily in the hands of the government — from silencing or controlling debate.

Today there is one other very noticeable concentration of social power capable of oppression that was not as clearly problematic then as it is now — the large corporation, using modern scientific PR that can manipulate millions of us to act against our own self-interest and ideals. Corporations can use scientific PR and media (both mass media and the web) to bend political and governmental processes to serve corporate self-interest. This is a very far cry from the founders’ vision of town hall meetings and legislatures where the ideal of citizenship was free self-expression, full hearing of diverse views, deliberation and debate, and electoral answerability. Unrestrained corporate power is now capable of colonizing, corrupting, and distorting every single one of those ideals.

I have let my ACLU membership expire. I hope the ACLU reconsiders its decision in light of one of the more remarkable essays on democracy, “Democracy: A Social Power Analysis”, which clarifies just how dangerous this Supreme Court decision is.

A Dark Humor Postscript: Since the Supreme Court also confirmed that corporations are persons with citizenship rights, the satirical magazine The Onion wrote an imaginary story about a corporation running for office. The logic of this was so obvious that a PR firm has actually decided it WILL run for office. Beware of what you joke about…

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