October 14, 2012
James Bennett in The New Price of American Politics in The Atlantic raises the issue of the way that Americans pay for their politics after Citizens United Citizens United. The term is shorthand for a Supreme Court decision that gave corporations much of the same right to political speech as individuals have, thus removing virtually any restriction on corporate money in politics.
Bennett says that these:
are defined by a series of interlocking mazes—of congressional statutes and federal regulations, court cases and state laws. But those mazes are built on top of some of the most basic ideas about the nature of the republic, about the right of free speech, the sources of power and corruption, and the relationships of citizens to the state and to one another. That foundation is shifting now, to a degree not seen since Watergate, and perhaps not in more than a century, with effects that even the most-experienced politicians are just coming to appreciate. In the wake of Citizens United (though not only because of Citizens United), the combination of permissive judges, paralyzed regulators, and a deadlocked Congress has emboldened political operatives—quite sensibly—to raise and spend money in ways they wouldn’t have dared before. Not since the Gilded Age has our politics been opened so wide to corporate money and donations from secret sources.
The Supreme Court had striked down laws that blocked corporations and unions from spending as much as they wanted to elect or defeat candidates. This paves the way for a new type of political-action committee—the “super pac” that could raise limitless contributions from corporations and unions, as long as it spent the money independently of any campaign.
In wiping out the McCain-Feingold’s ban on contributions from corporations and unions the majority opinion resoundingly endorsed the idea that for purposes of politics, corporations are the same as people, with the same protection under the First Amendment. Political speech is commercial speech in that political speech advances the corporation’s interest in making profits. The Roberts Court, it appears, will guarantee moneyed interests the freedom to raise and spend any amount, from any source, at any time, in order to win elections.
The shift to political finances being lightly regulated in the US legally legitimates what is happening in liberal democracy: that corporations realize that political power is necessary; that such power must be assiduously cultivated; and that, when necessary, it must be used aggressively and with determination.
You can see this in Australia with both Big Mining and Alan Jones and 2GB. As Neil Chenoweth in the AFR points out about the latter:
Fighting the carbon tax is a business – it’s arguably the most successful business in Australian media right now. Alan Jones has earned a fortune for his employer from his determined campaigning against the tax.....Through those months, when Jones was railing at Ju-Liar, when he was addressing campaigns with Tony Abbott while protesters behind them held up “Ditch the Witch” banners, or while he led the Convoy of No Confidence to Canberra, Jones’ ratings were in the stratosphere and 2GB was raking in the advertising money. It wasn’t just Jones – all of 2GB’s hosts were on fire, particularly Hadley, whose share reached 20.7 per cent.
Like Fox in the US Jones makes money by polarising the community and reinforcing prejudices.The media company is both a political weapon and a major money-spinner.