What is the Amalgamation? It is the joinder of churches, corporations and the Republican Party which began in early 1980 and has now risen to a formidable influence in all elections. Most Americans don’t even realize the effect that unlimited campaign money has on their decision making. Russia does, and that’s why they are trying to participate.
For American voters, it all began with the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United. That decision effectively gave every corporation the same rights as an individual citizen under the First Amendment, except the right to vote. But corporations really didn’t need the right to vote to influence campaigns and legislation. You ask what does it mean for corporations to have the same rights as an individual citizen? Here’s how it works.
The federal campaign laws and election laws are obtuse. The bottom line is that it is legal for anyone to spend an unlimited amount of money on campaigns and elections. There is an uninforced precondition, however, and that is that the spending isn’t done in coordination with the candidate. Really! Do you really believe that doesn’t happen in a circuitous way, especially with no oversight? The Citizen’s United case had the effect of protecting the First Amendment right of free speech, just as for individual citizens, and thus guaranteeing corporate backing of politicians running for office.
However, to honor the “no coordination with the candidate rule,” the easy thing for corporate America to do is take their big bucks to the airways and Internet and spend it on adds befitting their candidate of choice. There is no limitation on the amount they can spend or what can be said or presented, truth or lie. This is a big problem with our campaign finance system: outside spending has skyrocketed, and there is no accountability whatsoever for it. Religious institutions noting this new freedom for corporations need only to form an outside PAC or corporation to follow the corporate example.
Federal law does regulate money spent directly on campaigns. As you might guess, the law is convoluted and nuanced. It does this in two ways: (1) by limiting the amount of money that individuals can contribute to a campaign (again, because of this, corporations go a different route, such as political action committees (PACs) and other mechanisms, as do religious foundations) and(2) by requiring the campaigns and entities that advocate for a campaigns make a bunch of disclosures to the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Thus, a person who runs for office only has to think of two things when it comes to campaign finance: managing direct contributions (which today are capped at $2800 per person per candidate) and making disclosures to the FEC. If you’re thinking the candidate is not thinking of how to get money into their favorite PAC, you’re not thinking political strategy.
Obviously, by passing these laws Congress took the position that laws matter but did not take into account the legal evasion used to influence. Some people argue that federal campaign and election laws are good, and some argue that there is always a way to get around them. Polling shows that most Americans believe the commonsense notion that money buys political favors. The bigger the bank check the argument goes, the more influence the donor the donor can have on lawmaking, which is unfair to regular people. Quid pro quo is a common business practice. Why not in politics? It is because it is neither equal nor democratic. “I’ll pay to have you elected, so long as once you are in office, you do my personal, or corporate or religious influence bidding.” The voter without a huge bank account gets marginalized in the process.
Under federal law, foreigners and foreign entities cannot donate or spend money on American elections. But the foreign rich and their governments do through loopholes and dark money. We don’t know how much foreign influence is occurring. But think about the implications: Do we really want foreign sheiks or others or anonymous foreign powers running campaign adds in the United States?
The founding Fathers concept of the First Amendment was no law shall be made prohibiting the freedom of religion but no law shall be made establishing the religion, either. The First Amendment also gave us free speech and protects it, but it does not protect unequal rights such as one voter’s influence over the right of an individual citizen.
Competition breeds heated strategies to win in any game, so you have rules and referees to enforce them – soccer, football, baseball, etc. Politics is a huge and expensive game. The motivation is always to skirt the rules to gain an advantage, and there is seldom enough referees or oversight to enforce fairness. Those with the biggest check book win.