Texas' foremost populist says, 'We the People, not We the Corporations'
Published: November 9, 2011
Rather than merely influencing our elected federal, state and even local legislators with direct campaign donations from company executives, corporations can now utilize their often billion-dollar-plus corporate treasuries to intimidate the people elected to serve all of the people. Big Insurance, Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Box Store, Big Banking, Big Whatever have suddenly been armed with the unlimited, devastating spending power of their practically bottomless corporate treasuries. Their lobbyists can bluntly say to a lawmaker, governor, mayor or other official, "After you support this little-bitty tax break for us, we will spend a million bucks to re-elect you. If you don't, we'll spend the same amount to see you defeated."
Ironically, Citizens United v FEC has united America's citizenry in broad, deep and vehement opposition to the absurd notion that a corporation is entitled to inclusion as one of us as in "We the People." In poll after poll, huge majorities consistently scream against the ruling and demand strong action against it. A Hart Research survey in January 2011 — a year after the court's edict was issued — found that public opposition remained fervent, with 87 percent of Democrats, 82 percent of independents, and 68 percent of Republicans favoring passage of a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and to make clear that corporations do not have the same rights as people.
Supreme Court cases and arcane matters of campaign finance don't usually move the needle of public awareness from "Huh?" to "Hot damn!" But the perversion of our politics and government by deep-pocket corporations has been like sticking the public's tongue in an electric socket. People are energized by it, and they've turned such terms as Citizens United, the Roberts Court, the Koch Brothers, SuperPACs and corporate personhood into curse words. The issue has even become a comic punch line: "If corporations are people," asked a letter writer to the New York Times, "can I marry one? Is General Electric single?" And here's one from my state: "A corporation is not a person until Texas executes one."
Waiting for the powers that be
In response to such strong public outrage, our elected stalwarts in Washington have risen up and responded decisively, by doing exactly nothing.
Republican leaders, long wedded to the corporate plutocracy by ideology and money, openly cheered the court's move. President Obama squawked briefly about the judicial hijacking of our democracy, and the Democratic Party's congressional leaders flapped their arms in anger for a while — but then they just let it go, slinking quietly away from the issue. (Importantly, a feisty Progressive Caucus in Congress continues to push the issue aggressively.)
The new Tea Party Republicans, who had barged into the congressional club with thundering claims that they had come to "take our country back" and "restore power to the people," have been conspicuously silent on this most fundamental issue of the people's power. Instead, they've slipped comfortably into it, with not a peep of protest over the fact that five unelected government officials have dictated that Big Money is a person with political rights to buy our government.
Now comes 2012, and Tea Partiers, Republicans and corporate Democrats alike can be seen scurrying around like hunger-crazed squirrels in a frenetic grab-fest for the tens of millions— even hundreds of millions — of dollars that Mitt's people are gleefully throwing around.
The money dump is well under way, and it's massive. The tip of this destructive iceberg is a legalistic gimmick known as the SuperPAC. Authorized by Citizens United, these are super-sized, super-energized political action committees. Unlike the regulated PACs of yesteryear, SuperPACs can — and will — invest tens of millions of dollars right out of corporate coffers — as well as from unions and individuals, but corporations are the monster players — and put the whole load directly into ads and other efforts to elect or defeat any candidates they choose.
How big of a load? Just one of these money monsters, Karl Rove's American Crossroads, raised a whopping $28 million from corporate interests to elect Republicans in last year's elections. But that's a mere trickle compared to the tsunami now headed our way; Rove's Crossroads PAC is presently amassing a democracy-shattering $240 million for 2012.
Every major presidential candidate has at least one of these things sacking up and spending money specifically on their behalf. Rick Perry, for example, has six of them. Technically, SuperPACs are independent entities that must not coordinate their spending with the candidates they're supporting. This legal prohibition against coordination is absolute. And it's absolutely a farce and a fraud.
Perry's top SuperPAC, modestly named Make Us Great Again, intends to put $55 million behind the Texan's effort to win the GOP presidential nomination. It was created and is headed by Mike Toomey, a top corporate lobbyist in Texas before sliding over in 2002 to be Perry's gubernatorial chief of staff. In 2004, Toomey slid back into lobbying, using his tight ties to Perry to become Austin's pre-eminent corporate influence peddler and a fundraiser for the governor.
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