The team that brought you the 2000 presidential election has just presented the American people with another juicy gift. The U.S. Supreme Court, moved substantially to the right by George W. Bush's appointment of John Roberts and Samuel Alito, has just declared unconstitional almost every campaign finance law that restricts corporate contributions to elections. Oh, and union contributions. They still can't donate directly to candidates; but there are now no limits on the amount of money they can pour into advertising during an election. Your state has local restrictions on corporate contributions? Also unconstitutional. The McCain-Feingold Act? History.
Kiss American democracy goodbye, folks. This is the end of government of the people, by the people, and for the people. It has just been replaced by the Golden Rule - the guys who have the gold, make the rules. Ordinary citizens can't possibly match the financial clout of corporations and corporate unions.
Do I seem just a little cynical about the good wishes of corporations and unions? Well, I can't speak for unions, but I spent 38 years working for corporate America, and I never saw a single public-spirited action that the companies didn't think would contribute directly to their bottom line. Corporate contributions to elections will focus on improving corporate profits, the public be damned. A classic example: the banking industry thought that the Glass-Steagall Act, which prevented banks from trading securities, was keeping them from making all the money they could possibly make. They poured money into the Congressional campaigns of people who agreed with them. Ten years ago, Glass-Steagall was repealed, and banks could own brokerages and trade securities. I don't need to remind you what came out of that.
Do the citizens have any recourse here? We can't afford to buy our own Congressman; the corporations have already bid the price up way too high. Our only option is information. Fortunately the laws that require disclosure of campaign contributions still stand. As long as they do, we must ensure that we know where the corporate money goes. If somebody's campaign was specifically supported by campaign ads from Glutco, Inc., we must make sure that candidate is identified as "the candidate from Glutco." Knowledge is power; it seems to be the only power we have left.
In 1787, as he left the Constitutional Convention, somebody is said to have asked Benjamin Franklin, "What have we got, a Republic or a Monarchy?" Franklin reputedly replied, "A Republic - if you can keep it." Can we keep it?