When a trickle becomes a flood
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.