I was in Minneapolis for a family wedding recently and couldn’t help noticing by reading the papers just how big an impact the U.S. Supreme Court decision on corporate cash was having on our neighbors to the west. As you probably recall, the high court said in the Citizens United case that corporations have a free speech right to spend as much as they want on political campaigns.
Minnesota had a big primary earlier this month — four Republicans and four Democrats each running for their party’s nomination for governor, for instance — and thanks to the court’s green light, corporations jumped in big time.
There were those who insisted at the time that some commentators and politicians were overreacting to the high court’s corporations-are-people ruling because few businesses would risk alienating customers by blatantly taking sides in political campaigns.
Wrong, unless Minnesota is some sort of anomaly, which is highly unlikely.
In less than one month before the August primary, 13 companies, including Target, Best Buy and Pentair, funneled more than a million dollars to Mn Forward, a pro-business campaign conduit, which in turn poured roughly $200,000 into the campaign of Tom Emmer, a staunch anti-gay-rights conservative. Republican Emmer won the Aug. 10 primary and will face Democrat Mark Dayton and the Independence Party’s Tom Horner in the fall election.
The Target donation, which was $150,000 alone, stirred some controversy and evoked a call from gay support groups to boycott the upscale discount giant. That led the company’s CEO to assure gay customers that the donation was meant only “to advance policies aligned with our business objectives.”
In other words, as Mike McCabe of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign noted, corporate donations in political campaigns have really nothing to do with enhancing the public discourse, as a 5-4 majority of our Supreme Court would have us believe, but everything to do with bolstering the bottom line by electing politicians who would make that easier to happen.
As predicted, the increased corporate spending has spurred labor unions to open their spigots in return. Through their conduit, Alliance for a Better Minnesota, unions had already spent $685,000 on ads that were critical of Emmer.
So after years of good-government groups from both parties warning that the flood of money into our political process was poisoning our elections and threatening our democracy, we’ve actually opened the floodgates to more and more cash and more and more bought politicians.
The McCain-Feingold law, for instance, was a bipartisan plan to place at least some rules on campaign spending. The legislation, authored by Sens. John McCain and Russ Feingold, was hailed as a first step to returning some credibility to the election process.
But the Supreme Court, now packed with pro-business, anti-government ideologues, through a series of recent rulings has undone most of the attempts to address out-of-control spending.
And now here we are in 2010 with a system that more than ever gives more speech rights to those with the biggest pocketbooks, not those with the biggest ideas.
Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. firstname.lastname@example.org