16 June 2010: Money shouldn’t talk in elections

Money shouldn’t talk in elections

“I give you, gentlemen, the Supreme Court of the United States — guardian of the dollar, defender of private property, enemy of spoliation, sheet anchor of the Republic.”

— toast by a New York banker in 1895

In his People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn traces the evolution of the symbiotic relationship between the courts and corporate interests through cases in which the courts invariably sided with corporations against workers, farmers and other low- middle-income wage earners. In 1886 alone, the Supreme Court did away with 230 state laws passes to regulate corporations.

“By this time,” Zinn writes, “the Supreme Court had accepted the argument that corporations were ‘persons’ and their money was property protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,” which “supposedly had been passed to protect Negro rights.” Of the 307 cases brought before the court in the 20 years between 1890 and 1910 though, 288 dealt with corporations.

Given that history, it was not surprising to read the Supreme Court on June 8 put a stay on Arizona’s law that provides candidates with matching funds, a program passed by the voters to clean up electioneering spending for state offices.

The NY Times’ editorial, “Keeping Politics Safe for the Rich,” calls the stay of the Arizona law “judicial activism” and “a reckless order muscling into the race.” But it should be noted the court’s action is essentially a logical extension of its ruling in the Citizens United case in which it eliminated limits to campaign spending by corporations and opened the doors for international corporations to influence U.S. elections.

Grasping that requires a leap into the fantasy world of the original-intent crowd that ostensibly worships at the altar of the 10th Amendment. First, corporations are “persons,” and second, money is a form of speech. Therefore, this syllogism: Since money is a form of free speech and all persons enjoy First Amendment protection of such, corporations’ right to free speech cannot be encumbered by state law. Again, picture the AFLAC duck trying to understand Yogi Berra.

But one can deduce this from that deduction: the 1 percent that controls 95 percent of the nation’s wealth has 95 times more right to free speech. So much for the other 14th Amendment clause, “equal protection under the law.”

For the moneyed elite, it’s better than “one man, one vote.” Would you rather have your one vote or the power to influence millions of others? Money talks, as we saw firsthand in Clear Creek in 2008: It’s the reason we elected congressman Jared Polis rather than congresswoman Joan Fitz-Gerald.

The court’s ruling has implications for Colorado because of Initiative 53, which, if enough signatures are gathered, will be on the November ballot as a constitutional amendment. It would “end the money chase,” its backers claim, by providing for publicly-financed elections.

On its website www.cleancampaignscolorado.com, Clean Campaigns for Colorado states it was its hope that “one or more legislators would introduce and support” the initiative in the state house or senate.

“This did not happen and the effort languished for over two years until it was decided to treat it as an initiative, an amendment to the Colorado constitution, and was given the title Colorado Citizen-Funded Campaigns.”

Democratic Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff, during a visit to the United Center, described the way we finance elections as a “pay-for-play political culture. There is no motive for those in D.C. to change the rules that got them there,” said Romanoff.

True, but the only way to get back to the Constitution’s original intent — you know, the “We-the-People,-forming-a-more-perfect-Union” idea — might be through an amendment or two declaring two principles: only living, breathing people, not corporations or any other like collective entity, are persons, and money is not a form of speech.

It’s very easy to be cynical about the political culture dominated by moneyed elitists because “We the People” have been disempowered. But that didn’t happen overnight. It began with the writing — remember the three-fifths provision for slaves — and the campaign for ratification of the Constitution. Zinn observes, in light of how the process turned out in New York after mechanics, which constituted one-half of the state’s population, decided to support it, “The Constitution, then, illustrates the complexity of the American system: that it serves the interests of the wealthy elite, but also does enough for small property owners … to build a broad base of support.”

By adding the Bill of Rights, the Constitution became “even more acceptable to the public at large,” but “what was not made clear was the shakiness of anyone’s liberty when entrusted to a government of the rich and powerful.”

It is an enduring struggle, the next act of which might very well play out here in Colorado in November.

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