January 6 shows why corporate political spending is bad for democracy


For a brief moment, American companies appeared to stop subsidizing efforts to undermine democracy. On January 6, insurgents instigated by former President Donald Trump and several high-ranking Republicans stormed the Capitol, and eight senators and 139 representatives refused to certify President Joe Biden’s victory. In response, corporations made lofty promises never to support the politicians who tried to overthrow American democracy again. But most of the companies that made those promises are now back to allow politicians who always shamelessly support the attempted coup. (Mostly “indirectly” through flaws in our campaign finance system.)

But we remove the wrong message if we think of it as a failure of companies to live up to their civic responsibility. Businesses have no structural interest in a functioning democracy; they are interested in a government that primarily meets their needs, and their need is to amass as much wealth as possible.

Corporations are nothing more than a legal vehicle to encourage investment. Investors in corporations are protected from liability – if the company goes bankrupt, they lose their investment, but they are not liable for the debts of the company – and in return, they relinquish control of the day-to-day management of the company. their investment. As machines to encourage investment, companies are enjoying unprecedented success.

However, the dangers of letting the wealth-accumulating machines engage in politics were so obvious that they were banned from doing so from 1907 to 2010. In that year, the Supreme Court abandoned any sane understanding. the specific role of businesses in our democracy. In its notoriety Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling, the court allowed companies to spend unlimited amounts of their own cash flow to influence elections.

Corn What do companies “say” with political spending? Unsurprisingly, companies are advocating policies that allow them to amass more wealth, adding to the already unbalanced “wealth primary” in this country. This ensures that, with few exceptions, only elected officials who have accepted money from corporate interests can run viable campaigns. This creates a government that is generally more responsive to corporate interests than the public interest.

Considering this, why would we expect businesses to defend democracy? Until the political system is so chaotic as to affect their bottom line – and the next coup is proven to be in the courts, not on the streets – businesses have no stake in a system. legal that responds to the general public. . At best, they are agnostic towards an authoritarian regime. At worst, they might welcome him as a more robust protector of their property than democracy.

To save our democracy, we cannot rely on corporations – we have to understand that they stand in our way. Not because they are bad, but because they act exactly as they were designed to act: to amass as much wealth as possible. Corporate political spending is not part of the solution; that’s part of the problem.

We must respond by limiting the influence of business in the political process. In the short term, this means supporting innovative legislation that works under the current Supreme Court precedent by banning political spending by companies under substantial foreign ownership and limiting contributions to super PACs. In the longer term, we must reform the Supreme Court and amend the Constitution to reverse the United citizens decision.

43 years ago Supreme Court Justice Byron White dissented in the Supreme Court’s first case to grant corporations the right to spend their treasury funds to directly influence the political process in a case that foreshadowed United citizens. He warned that the move threatened to allow corporate interests, which “control vast amounts of economic power” to “dominate not only the economy, but also the very heart of our democracy, the electoral process.” The First Amendment, he argued, did not oblige the public to allow “their own creation to consume it.”

The January 6 insurgency and cowardly corporate response reminds us that we must reclaim the promise of true democracy in our country, sensitive not to corporate slush funds but to the American people.

About Leah Albert

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