The Supreme Court may have ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission days ago, but the decision’s shockwaves are still rippling across American democracy.
Key among them is a concern first raised by Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote in his dissent that the court, by removing all prohibitions against corporate or union money in U.S. elections, “would appear to afford the same protection to multinational corporations controlled by foreigners as to individual Americans.”
“I guess this would be the corporate globalization of the U.S. electoral system,” a blogger for watchdog group The Sunlight Foundation opined.
In other words, The Sunlight Foundation noted, the Supreme Court “might support allowing foreign companies to spend freely in elections in the United States.”
“A majority of large businesses are now owned by foreign entities, and this means international corporations could pour tons of money into the United States political scene, potentially swaying the political climate,” added Newsweek.
The Center for Public Integrity specifically highlights foreign-owned corporations which operate U.S.-based subsidiaries. The group focused on CITGO Petroleum Company, purchased by Venezuela’s state-run oil firm Petróleos de Venezuela in 1990. Through the association, Venezuelan socialist leader Hugo Chavez might conceivably “spend government funds to defeat an American political candidate, just by having CITGO buy TV ads bashing his target.”
“And it’s not just Chavez,” the Center continued. “The Saudi government owns Houston’s Saudi Refining Company and half of Motiva Enterprises. Lenovo, which bought IBM’s PC assets in 2004, is partially owned by the Chinese government’s Chinese Academy of Sciences. And Singapore’s APL Limited operates several U.S. port operations. A weakening of the limit on corporate giving could mean China, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and any other country that owns companies that operate in the U.S. could also have significant sway in American electioneering.”
President Barack Obama, in his weekly YouTube address on Saturday, blasted the court’s decision, saying that it “strikes at our democracy itself.” He has ordered Congress to “develop a forceful response” to the court’s move, but Newsweek notes that a significant reformation of U.S. election law may not be in place before the 2010 mid-term elections.
“If we do nothing then I think you can kiss your country goodbye,” Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) told RAW STORY hours after the court’s decision was announced. “You won’t have any more senators from Kansas or Oregon, you’ll have senators from Cheekies and Exxon. Maybe we’ll have to wear corporate logos like Nascar drivers.”
Anticipating the court’s decision, Grayson has filed six bills to reform campaign finance.
The bills have names like the Business Should Mind Its Own Business Act and the Corporate Propaganda Sunshine Act. The first slaps a 500 percent excise tax on corporate spending on elections, and the second mandates businesses to disclose their attempts to influence elections. More details are available on the congressman’s Web site.
A prior version of this story misattributed a quote from The Sunlight Foundation.