Last week’s Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United overturned more than a century of precedent and handed corporations the same free-speech rights as people, including the right to spend unlimited amounts of money to elect or defeat candidates for office.
Among most Republican politicians, that news was greeted with glee. However, the GOP grassroots and the Tea Party movement ought to look at that ruling with a great deal more skepticism, because its impact on the issues that matter most to them could be significant.
Take, for example, earmarks.
In the wake of Citizens United, imagine yourself as a congressman confronted by a fly-by-night company back home trying to get a $200 million earmark for some product the Pentagon refuses to buy. Is that congressman going to be more willing or less willing to say no, knowing that the company can now spend freely in an attempt to unseat him? The power of special interests to armtwist Congress for earmarks can’t help but grow significantly as a result of this ruling.
Or how about those Wall Street bigwigs, manipulating Washington at the expense of Main Street and small business?
When big banks want to gut regulations and get the Security and Exchange Commission off their backs, or when they need another big bailout from the taxpayer, what kind of reception will they now get from congressional committees? Wall Street’s already strong grip on Washington will turn into a death grip now that Congress knows those banks can spend millions of dollars trying to defeat or re-elect them.
Moving jobs overseas?
Much of America’s manufacturing base has already been shipped overseas thanks to trade deals that were championed by corporations eager to tap cheap overseas labor. With corporate America now able to threaten or woo candidates directly, is that process likely to slow or accelerate?
Some jobs, like homebuilding, meatpacking and the service industry, can’t easily be shipped overseas to cut labor costs. So the obvious solution is to move that cheap labor here. When the economy improves and employers once again need workers, how diligent will the federal government be about prosecuting companies for hiring illegal immigrants? We already know that workplace enforcement all but ceased in the Bush administration, mainly to please companies that wanted the cheap, docile workforce that illegal immigration provides. Thanks to Citizens United, those companies now have a much larger voice to ensure they get their way. (See, Saxby Chambliss.)
Government waste and the deficit?
When the next farm bill comes up, just to cite an example, will the farm-state politicians who dominate the agriculture committees say no to agribusiness demands for billions in new taxpayer subsidies? The same is true of industries from automaking to Big Pharma to defense. (See. Saxby Chambliss).
Overall, the biggest complaint of the populist tide is that government has grown unresponsive to the needs of the little guy. Is that problem likely to ease or worsen now that corporations have been freed to “speak loudly” by making unlimited campaign expenditures? Citizens United has given special interests a veritable megaphone to “communicate” with national leadership, while in comparison individual citizens are condemned to living in Whoville, where “even though you can’t see or hear them at all, a person’s a person, no matter how small.’’