The Most Pressing Issue of Our Time
“As we view the achievements of aggregated capital, we discover the existence of trusts, combinations, and monopolies, while the citizen is struggling far in the rear or is trampled to death beneath an iron heel. Corporations, which should be the carefully restrained creatures of the law and the servants of the people, are fast becoming the people’s masters.” — President Grover Cleveland, 1888.
Corporate money in politics was such a problem only a little over a hundred years after our independence that even the president of the United States at the time had to address it. Things are no better now. And with decisions made by the Supreme Court on cases such as Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, things are only slated to get worse. There is nothing that is unaffected by the ability of the rich to influence politics in their favor by contributing, mostly through corporations and PACs, to politicians willing to work for the highest bidder. This is what our political system has been boiled down to. The root of any problem being a serious issue for my generation, or any generation for that matter, would be a corporation’s unfair influence in politics. Without a cure to this issue, every other solution would only be a temporary band aid on a deep wound.
The scope of corporate personhood and its implications is hard to grasp. Corporate personhood allows corporations to use laws initially crafted for real, natural persons, in their favor and to protect themselves from everything from inspections ensuring they aren’t polluting by invoking the 4th amendment to making large contributions to political campaigns by invoking the 1st amendment. These laws make sense when used by real people, but how do we expect to enforce laws such as OSHA by announcing beforehand to a corporation that we are going to inspect them? This isn’t an effective way of enforcing such laws. It’s interesting to note how the laws intended for real people are working against us when used by (and on) corporations. OSHA is intended for workers safety and instead, because of the need to inform an employer of a coming inspection, works against us because a corporation has time to clean up their act. Corporate personhood gives corporations the “right” to enjoy the 1st amendment by being entitled to “free speech.” This was decided in the Citizens United case that allowed them to play a movie bashing Hilary Clinton 30 days before the 2008 democratic primaries. This went against McCain-Feingold and was ultimately allowed by the Supreme Court citing a corporation’s right to free speech.
Corporations also have much more access to a politician than you or I have. It’s not just their ability to legally feign being a “person.” They contribute mass amounts of money to politicians and to committees and subcommittees in order to sway favor. This was glaringly obvious during the healthcare debate going around Washington and the United States. The health care industry and its lobbying firms had reportedly spent huge sums of money to keep the status quo alive and kill single payer health care. It worked. When it came time for our congress folk to work on health care legislation, there wasn’t even mention of it. When a corporation contributes to a politician, members of its boards or stockholders are sometimes able to go to a dinner where they can engage the politician. If you and I were to try and get in touch with our politician, we would be lucky to speak to one of their aides. To expound on this point further, I’ll go back to the example of lobbyist during the health care debate. I want you to try to imagine that you are a legislator and you’re on a committee that will be crafting health care legislation. If you are being invited out to your own campaign fundraisers ran by Blue Cross Blue Shield, or to private parties with health care industry CEO’s in attendance, or being contributed to heavily by health care industry Political Action Committees, how do you think that would affect you? I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that maybe you could be influenced by this. This type of action is impossible by the people. It’s only possible by corporations or wealthy individuals. This access has proven, time and again, to work against the people.
In sum, corporate influence in politics is anti-people, anti-democracy, and unfair to “We, the people.” Global climate change, economic meltdowns, or any other major issues facing us have been created by corporations with their disregard for human life and need to meet their bottom line. If we believe we are living in a democratic nation we must make this a national priority and make the changes necessary before we are made serfs to corporate kings.