Corporate Cash Breeds Inequality
by The Opportunity Agenda, Mon Feb 01, 2010 at 12:01:16 PM EST
When the founding fathers gathered to declare independence, they were responding to consolidated power in the form of the monarchy and the church. The system that they designed to govern the United States was intentionally complex and diffuse, with checks and balances in place to prevent any single individual or group from exerting undue influence over the process. This past Thursday, with their ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court violated these intentions, enhancing the influence of a small handful of very powerful institutions and providing them with the tools to crowd out diverse voices.
Many critics of the ruling in favor of Citizens United, which lifted a six-decade-old ban on corporations using their profits to endorse or oppose political candidates as well as a set of rules about the timing of corporate-sponsored political advertisements, have focused on the degree to which it will further strengthen the power of special interests over policy decisions. While this is true, it is also important to note that the ruling will almost certainly further limit the representation of women and people of color, who traditionally have more trouble raising the sums of money necessary to effectively compete in increasingly expensive elections. By and large, the candidate who spends more money wins, and this has long contributed to the political underrepresentation of many communities. Having to compete with not only a better funded opponent, but with freer-spending corporate interests as well, will cause many candidates not to run and many candidates who do choose to run to lose against the increasingly long odds. And, as the voices of underrepresented communities are stranded further and further away from the halls of power, existing disparities in opportunity will almost certainly worsen.
Now that the Supreme Court has had their say, and chosen to raise the barriers to entry for all but the richest and most powerful, we must begin to consider ways of mitigating the exclusionary impact of big money in politics. As the Obama campaign proved, new technology can help candidates turn small donations into remarkable sums, but technology alone will be insufficient. We must begin to examine other options for making our political system more inclusive, such as the various systems of "Clean Elections," or full public financing, that have been enacted in Maine, Arizona, North Carolina, New Mexico, Vermont, Connecticut and the cities of Portland, Oregon and Albuquerque, NM. The mechanics of the financing systems vary, but the result has been universal—more competitive elections in which a greater diversity of voices is heard.
Politicians, from President to dog catcher, are working right now to establish their populist credentials. Reforming the way elections are paid for would give them a credible argument that they are truly representing “we the people,” as opposed to insiders and special interests.
Read more at The Opportunity Agenda website.