CARL GIBSON: Why I'm Glad the Money in Politics Amendment Failed

September 12, 2014
Carl Gibson

If money is free speech, then speech isn’t free. And if corporations are people, then every corporate shareholder is violating a constitutional clause that states that no person may own another person as property. Any proposal that doesn’t address these two fundamental issues is a failure from the start.

Senate Democrats are all about securing their jobs for the next six years. SJR-19, the “Democracy for All” amendment that just failed a vote on the U.S. Senate floor, was never meant to succeed. It was a blatant fundraising and vote-getting ploy in a last-ditch effort by career politicians to keep their jobs. If DC politicians cared half as much about American jobs as their own jobs, our country would be in great shape.

To be clear, it’s obvious that money has completely and totally corrupted our political process. I recently wrote about examples of obvious corruption in light of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell’s guilty verdict. Scott Walker and Rahm Emanuel both reward top campaign donors with tax breaks. Eric Cantor took a job on Wall Street after defending Wall Street for his entire Congressional career. Politicians have to win the support of wealthy individuals and corporations to be competitive in elections, do their bidding to stay in office, and vote based on their future employability by those same corporations and wealthy individuals when they get voted out or retire. This is obvious to even the most uninformed voter. But SJR-19 is only a band-aid for the hemorrhaging head wound that is our democracy.

As I’ve also previously written for this site, SJR-19 is only limited to campaign financing, and doesn’t address the fundamental problems of corporate personhood or the concept of money as free speech. Even if SJR-19 had passed the Senate and House, been signed by the president, and ratified by two-thirds of all 50 U.S. states, it intentionally leaves gaping loopholes big enough for any corporate lawyer worth their salt to drive a freight train through. Since corporations are considered legal persons under the U.S. constitution, and money is still considered free speech, they can claim in court that limiting their ability to spend money in elections is a limit on their constitutional right to free speech as people. Corporations and the rich will be able to continue influencing government officials, and we’re be back to square one.

Senate Democrats don’t want to eliminate corporate constitutional rights or money as free speech. They just want to keep their jobs for another six years by pointing the finger at Republicans, saying they tried to do something to help people, but Republicans stopped them. Expect a deluge of fundraising emails from Senate Democrats in the coming days, asking for your $3 contribution to their re-election campaign. Expect institutional NGOs joined at the hip with Washington politicians, like Public Citizen, to claim the vote as a victory as an excuse to hit you up for money. And expect Democrats to continue using McCutcheon, the latest Supreme Court decision allowing even more money to infect our political process, to flood the political process with even more money.

Now, of course I don’t want the Senate to be under Republican control. This would mean the extreme right would control our entire legislative branch, and would pass endless bills aimed at increasing already record-high corporate profits at the expense of workers and the corpse of the environment. We would undoubtedly see deregulation of big banks, loosening the penalties for companies that pollute our rivers, lakes, and air, removing all responsibility for employers to provide a safe working environment, not to mention the privatization of Medicare and the plundering of Social Security by Wall Street. Obama would be relegated to little more than a veto pen, and might even sign some of those bills into law, given how easily he capitulates to banks and corporations. But in the case of SJR-19, Senate Democrats are simply feigning interest in populist causes in order to win as many votes as possible before November.

A constitutional amendment is necessary to end the corruption of our democracy. But we can’t depend on corporate-owned Washington politicians to be the answer to the problem of corporations buying politicians. Instead, we have to start at the grassroots and state level. One organization, Move to Amend (FULL DISCLOSURE: I have a personal relationship with a Move to Amend representative, but I’m not being paid by Move to Amend to write this article), has been doing that for the last 5 years, passing resolutions demanding a constitutional amendment in more than 600 communities and 8 state legislatures. Over 360,000 individuals have signed Move to Amend’s call for a constitutional amendment abolishing corporate personhood and money as speech. And U.S. congressman Rick Nolan has introduced Move to Amend’s “We the People” amendment doing just that in the House.

Now that the voter bait has been shot down, let’s continue working in our communities to address the real issue – corporations are artificial entities, not people. Money is property, not free speech.