Archived Story

When a trickle becomes a flood

Published 12:00am Sunday, March 2, 2014

Legend has it a young Dutch boy on his way to school one morning saw a small hole in a dyke with water escaping. The boy, risking being late for school, stuck his thumb in the hole stemming the leak and held has thumb there until help arrived.

The moral of the story was that quick action to prevent a small problem can save a big problem from occurring. A trickle can become a stream, a stream a torrent and a torrent a flood without the thumb in the Dyke at the earliest moment possible.

If only the Supreme Court majority in 2010 had known this story just a bit better, we might have averted what has become the flood that is Citizens United.

The case before the Court was not even about the issues the Court stretched to reach in freeing unlimited spending on elections by corporate and union “people.”

Citizen’s United v. The Federal Elections Commission was actually a small case about the First Amendment and whether the TV broadcast of a film criticizing then-Democratic Hillary Clinton could go forth free of restrictions by the Commission.

And the decision was at first deemed by the justices to be a very narrow ruling before Chief Justice Roberts moved beyond the issue of if the Commission was restricting free speech in controlling broadcasts during election cycles. The Chief Justice ultimately, with the support of the Court’s conservative majority, set aside a hundred years of precedent in election law and ruled on issues neither side presented, thus opening up the floodgates that corporations are “people.”

In short, the Court took sides and decided in Citizens United that it was a political entity, not a constitutional arbiter, making a Republican-favored sweeping decision that changed electoral politics in America for the worse.

David Kairys, law professor at Temple University wrote “Money isn’t speech and corporations aren’t people.” Yet that was exactly the effect Citizens United had, making equal the concept of one person, one vote to millions of dollars being equal to your vote.

After the Court’s decision an ABC-Washington Post poll found 80 percent of Americans opposed Citizens United. The opposition has not mattered in the least as billionaires have moved into the playing field of both parties’ buying up candidates as though they were low-level employees.

The 2012 presidential election actually offered a moment of encouragement that money alone could not change democracy, when the billionaires failed to influence the eventual outcome of that election, in spite of their efforts for both candidates.

But the outcome of that election taught these new “people,” hiding in front of us as Super PAC’s, that the real influence would be at the state and local levels, where elections can be bought for small “investments.”

Imagine an oil company seeking horizontal drilling rights under your local water reservoir decides to fund a candidate, or slate of candidates, who promise to advance their position if elected.

Historically elections for township trustee or city council in small towns cost candidate less than $2,000 in filing fees, campaign signs and rubber chicken fundingraising dinners.

The newly “personed” oil company could spend unlimited amounts winning these races, all as first amendment protected rights by the corporate personhood the Supreme Court granted them.

You, on the other hand, could vote, once only please, and observe how money helps win elections to a far greater extent than your single vote.

Richard Posner, outspoken judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, wrote, “Our political system is pervasively corrupt due to the Supreme Court taking away campaign contribution restrictions on the basis of the First Amendment.”

Indeed, the leak in the Dyke became a stream, the stream a torrent and the torrent a flood, that is Citizens United.


Jim Crawford is a retired educator and political enthusiast living here in the Tri-State.

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  • mickakers

    keta; As a PS: Edith Stein is one of my favorites. In 1942 Echt, Netherlands Edith was arrested along with her sister Rosa by the Nazis and transported to Auschwitz and gassed. Her last known words were “Come Rosa, we go for our people” meaning the Jews. Wikipedia has an article on her. For a start, may I suggest a read of her Autobiography; Edith Stein Life In A Jewish Family 1891-1916. ISBN 0-935216-04-9. She was a very beautiful young lady, not only in looks but spirit.

    (Report comment)

  • mickakers

    keta; Your comment, “Public education is an American value”, my compliments. Educators (teachers) are the backbone of our society or any society. I call to mind people like; Aristotle, Hippocrates, Mahatma Gandhi, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and Edith Stein to mention a few. You are in illustrious company keta.

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  • keta

    I’m a member of the biggest labor union in the U.S. – the National Education Association, which mikehaney probably considers a hotbed of liberal politics. In some ways it is, although it’s against the law to use our dues money to support political candidates. The NEA Fund for Children and Public Education does that, through voluntary donations like the ones I’m happy to send. The NEA supports public education and public employees, and fights fiercely against the republican goal of privatization, which would result in running schools like businesses in which only kids who deserve it (that means “afford it”) would receive a decent education. That would mean the end of equal opportunity for kids to make something of themselves, and that’s the point at which we could just throw in the towel and consider America a failed experiment. Public education is an American value. Opportunity is what makes us different from everyplace else. Aside from all that, the Temple professor was right when he said “Money isn’t speech and corporations aren’t people”. Duh. It’s interesting to watch the weird contortions these republicans and their lobbyists and corporate paymasters have to attempt in order to pretend to believe that money is speech and corporations are us. Everybody knows better, including them, but it’s lucrative as hell to pretend it’s true, and their only hope of winning elections is with an ocean of cash and a nationwide push to suppress the votes of actual citizens.

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  • mickakers

    Jim Crawford; As an interesting PS and for the benefit of our younger readers, a half pint of whiskey was called a “Little Boy” and was easily concealed. They used to stand outside the election booths and pass them out, not so much in Ohio (but it did happen) as Kentucky because of having dry counties.

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  • mickakers

    Jim Crawford; Let me begin with the comment, I am not a fan of Citizen’s United. In order to create a level playing field (when it comes to finances) is to set a limit on how much can be spent on a campaign. From a historical perspective, elections have been bought since the beginnings of the electoral process. I recall the times when they were bought with a half pint of whiskey, I appreciated the gift, but it did not influence my vote. I kinda miss those days.

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  • mickakers

    mikehaney; It is rather obvious you are not familiar with the inner workings of all Labor Union finances. The union I belong to, Transportation Communications Union (TCU)/IAM International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers associated with the AFL-CIO, has a Non-Partisan Political League which relies on voluntary donations, you are not forced to contribute. Union dues are a separate entity.

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  • mikehaney

    First hand experience. I was asked at work if I wanted to join the companies PAC, and contribute. I said no. I had a choice. Union workers paying union dues don’t have that choice. They are forced to contribute.
    The courts were correct also in preserving free speech. Just like the FCC wanted to intrude into the news room. We don’t need these little Hitlers ad Stalins deciding on what we say during elections. Voters are not stupid, and they can listen to whatever they want. Of course I might be wrong on this last point, considering the person in the white house at this time in history.
    Then we have Eric Holder deciding on his own what laws he will enforce.

    (Report comment)

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