Josh Hawley's Bill Masks the Real Sources of Corporate Rule

Is this a sincere response to the corporate influence of our elections or simply a Halloween stunt in which the far-right Republican dressed up as a campaign finance reformer to hide his true identity as a shill for corporate power? 

Republican Senator Josh Hawley introduced the Ending Corporate Influence on Elections Act on October 31 to reduce the impact of the Supreme Court 2010 Citizens United v. FEC. Its goal is to get corporate money out of our politics”

What are we to make of this surprising announcement?

Is it a sincere response to the corporate influence of our elections or simply a Halloween stunt in which Josh dressed up as a campaign finance reformer calling for real change to increase democracy by reducing corporate power?

Behind the masks are the real sources of corporate rule: all never-intended corporate constitutional rights and money defined as free speech.

Before we declare Hawley the GOP Senate champion of reducing corporate influence in elections, consider the following:

  1. Hawley’s bill would ban publicly traded (for-profit) corporations “from making independent expenditures, political ads, or other electioneering communications” and “from giving money to Super PACs.”

  2. The legislation is a proposed law, not a constitutional amendment. No law can overturn any part of the original Constitution, enacted constitutional amendments or Supreme Court decisions, even one as controversial as Citizens United. The Act is probably unconstitutional, although some claim that it would withstand a High Court challenge as it targets only publicly traded corporations (most of which are large companies) not small businesses that represent the bulk of “associations of citizens” that the Court claimed needed to be protected from free speech limitations.

  3. Ironically, even if Hawley’s law passed both the House and Senate and was signed by President Biden and withstood a constitutional challenge, it wouldn’t have any impact on Citizens United, the organization that filed the original suit, or “social welfare” groups like it. That’s because Citizens United is a non-profit corporate entity. Hawley’s bill only addresses large for-profit corporations.

  4. Non-profit “social welfare” corporate entities don’t have to publicly disclose their donors. This makes them popular vehicles for for-profit corporations and wealthy individuals to shield their political spending. These “dark money” nonprofits can give unlimited funds to Super PACS, groups legally permitted to receive and spend unlimited contributions to influence political elections, but must be “independent” from any candidate. Dark money groups have flooded federal elections with several billion dollars since Citizens United. Hawley’s Act would have zero impact on corporate contributions funneled through social welfare entities. The bill doesn’t close this massive loophole since it doesn’t include nonprofit corporations. The widespread assumptions are that nonprofit corporations don’t corrupt the political process and their constitutional rights shouldn’t be challenged.

  5. Non-profit corporations don’t need or shouldn’t have constitutional rights. All corporations, whether for-profit or non-profit, owe their existence to a political chartering process subject to the terms established by federal or state governments. It's illogical and inconsistent to grant constitutional rights to one type of corporate entity while excluding others. It will only create a loophole that will be exploited to create larger and more powerful nonprofits. Nonprofits don't need constitutional protections to function or protect the constitutional rights of their members and others. The Supreme Court case NAACP v. Alabama is often cited as an example of the need to protect constitutional rights for nonprofits, specifically a state order to turn over the list of NAACP members. Yet, the Supreme Court ruling in favor of the NAACP was due to its defense of the constitutional rights of its individual members, as revealing the lists would infringe upon the individual rights of its group members. The NAACP’s constitutional right wasn’t affirmed, but rather the organization acting on behalf of the individual right.

  6. Hawley and others on the political right say that “woke” corporations shouldn’t be influencing public policies through their actions, be they political contributions or companies agreeing not to sell certain products, like semi automatic guns . Those on the political left make the same case, but focus on different corporations and issues. Both sides are correct. Engaging in public policies should be the sole domain of human beings. The power of corporations to influence public policies transcend Citizens United and political elections. They also include the corporate hijacking of the 4th, 5th and 14th Amendments that have preempted democratically passed laws at the local and state levels.

  7. There is ever growing and profound popular anger, resentment and fear of the power and unaccountability of business corporations, be they Big Tech, Big Banks, Big Oil & Gas, Big Ag, Big Pharma, gun manufacturers, insurance, social media, investment firms, military contractors, e-commerce and many others. Strikes, boycotts, public demonstrations, lawsuits and civil disobedience are among the growing organized grassroots actions. The public call is increasingly for fundamental change to reduce corporate power.

  8. Many elected officials who see grassroots movements gaining strength will suddenly claim solidarity. Some are sincere. Others try to co-opt the movements and their demands with proposed solutions that are not equivalent to the scale of the problems, but presented as significant. Hawley’s bill falls into that category. A part of his motivation for introducing this bill may also be to change his image from the fist-raising supporter of the January 6th, 2021 insurrection and his objections to the certification of Electoral College results after rioters breached the Capitol to a democracy defender.

  9. Reducing the impact of Citizens United will not reign in corporate rule. An all-out reversal of Citizens United will not reign in corporate rule. The political right of corporations to spend money in elections is due to the combined 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision that equated money spent in elections as free speech and the 1978 First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti decision which defined the free speech right of corporations for the first time.

  10. Corporate constitutional rights go back to the 1880s. Ending the corporate threat to what little amount of democracy we’ve ever had requires abolishing all corporate constitutional rights and ending the constitutional doctrine that money is free speech. Move to Amend’s We the People Amendment (HJR54), sponsored by Rep. Pramila Jayapal and 71 co-sponsors in the current House of Representatives, is the solution. The effort has the support of more than 740 organizations, 700 municipalities and 8 states.

Hawley can dress as an anti-corporate proponent and claim that reducing the impact of Citizens United is a real solution to reducing corporate power. But behind the masks are the real sources of corporate rule: all never-intended corporate constitutional rights and money defined as free speech. The same goes for elected officials who claim that simply reversing Citizens United or simply opposing corporate First Amendment rights is the solution to affirming human rights and the rights to a livable world over corporate rights.

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