10 Ways to Stop Corporate Dominance of Politics
It's not too late to
limit or reverse the impact of the Supreme Court's
disastrous decision in Citizens United v. FEC. Here's how.
January 28, 2010
recent Supreme Court decision to allow unlimited corporate spending in
politics just may be the straw that breaks the plutocracy’s back.
Pro-democracy groups, business leaders,
and elected representatives
are proposing mechanisms to prevent or counter the millions of dollars
that corporations can now draw from their treasuries to push for
government action favorable to their bottom line. The outrage ignited
by the Court’s ruling in Citizens
United v. Federal Elections Commission extends to President
Obama, who has promised that repairing the damage will be a priority
for his administration.
But what can be done to limit or reverse
the effect of the Court’s decision? Here are 10 ideas:
- Amend the U.S. Constitution to declare that corporations are not persons
and do not have the rights of human beings. Since the First Amendment
case for corporate spending as a free speech right rests on
corporations being considered “persons,” the proposed amendment would
strike at the core of the ruling’s justification. The push for the 28th
Amendment is coming from the grassroots, where a prairie fire is
catching on from groups such as Public Citizen, Voter
Action, and the Campaign to Legalize Democracy.
- Require shareholders to approve political spending by
their corporations. Public Citizen and the Brennan Center for Justice
are among the groups advocating this measure, and some members of
Congress appear interested. Britain has required such shareholder
approval since 2000.
- Pass the Fair Elections Now Act,
provides federal financing for Congressional elections. This
measure has the backing of organizations representing millions of
Americans, including Moveon.org, the NAACP, the Service Employees
International Union, and the League of Young Voters. Interestingly, the
heads of a number of major corporations have also signed on, including
those of Ben & Jerry’s, Hasbro, Crate & Barrel, and the former
head of Delta Airlines.
- Give qualified candidates equal amounts of free broadcast
for political messages. This would limit the advantages of paid
advertisements in reaching the public through television where most
political spending goes.
political advertising by corporations that receive government money,
lobbyists, or collect most of their revenue abroad. A fear that
many observers have noted is that the Court’s ruling will allow foreign
corporations to influence U.S. elections. According to The New
York Times, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York) and Rep. Chris Van
Hollen (D-Maryland) are exploring this option.
- Impose a 500 percent excise tax on corporate contributions
to political committees and on corporate expenditures on political
advocacy campaigns. Representative Alan Grayson (D-Florida) proposes
this, calling it "The Business Should Mind Its Own Business Act."
- Prohibit companies from trading their stock on national
if they make political contributions and expenditures. Another one from
Grayson, which he calls "The Public Company Responsibility Act."
- Require publicly traded companies to disclose in SEC
money used for the purpose of influencing public opinion, rather than
for promoting their products. Grayson calls this "The Corporate
Propaganda Sunshine Act."
- Require the corporate CEO to appear as sponsor of
commercials that his or her company pays for, another
possibility from the Schumer-Van Hollen team, according to The New
- Publicize the reform options, inform the public of who is
making contributions to whom, and activate the citizenry. If
we are to safeguard our democracy, media must inform and citizens must
The measures listed above—and others that
seek to reverse the dominance
in our political system—will not be easy. But grassroots anger at this
latest win for corporate power is running high. History shows that when
the public is sufficiently aroused, actions that once seemed impossible
can, in hindsight, seem inevitable.