The Corporate Takeover of America

I finished a book last month, to be published by Wiley in June, that examines how financial manipulators at the top of every industry buy influence in government to create a legal and cultural backdrop that directs the assets of financially inept people in the general population into government, bank, and big business coffers.

That situation has gripped our nation for more than a century, even though during that time it was illegal for corporations to contribute directly to federal candidates. From my manuscript: “Since the Tillman Act became law in 1907, corporations have been prohibited from contributing directly to federal candidates. They still buy candidates, of course, but for more than 100 years they’ve had to do so through political action committees and individual members of their companies.”

That was how, for example, President Obama accepted $889,000 from oil companies during his campaign, then crowed in ads, “I don’t take money from oil companies or Washington lobbyists, and I won’t let them block change anymore.” Technically, he was right, because he didn’t accept money directly from them, but rather from their various front groups. His biggest contributor was the financial services industry, which made those in the know roll their eyes at the “change we can believe in” line of bull as Washington’s freshest face kept in charge the same crowd of cronies that blew up the economy to begin with: Bernanke, Geithner, Summers.

As bad as the steady corporate takeover of government has been, it got a whole lot worse last Thursday when the Supreme Court overruled two First Amendment precedents and prohibited government from banning political spending by corporations in elections. Under the auspices of corporations having the same right of free speech as individuals, the court dispelled even the veneer of propriety that existed a week ago.

While corporations are still banned from direct contributions to candidates, they can make any ads, videos, or other support material for the candidate of their choice as a form of free speech. Because such exposure tools are what every candidate spends his or her campaign budget on anyway, the result will be the same as if direct financial contributions were allowed.

Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in his dissent that the “court’s ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions around the nation” and “will, I fear, do damage to this institution.” Even special-interest-backed-Obama called it “a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.” Too bad they’ve been able to continue doing so as usual under his administration.

The New York Times wrote in an editorial on Thursday:

The majority is deeply wrong on the law. Most wrongheaded of all is its insistence that corporations are just like people and entitled to the same First Amendment rights. It is an odd claim since companies are creations of the state that exist to make money. They are given special privileges, including different tax rates, to do just that. It was a fundamental misreading of the Constitution to say that these artificial legal constructs have the same right to spend money on politics as ordinary Americans have to speak out in support of a candidate.

The majority also makes the nonsensical claim that, unlike campaign contributions, which are still prohibited, independent expenditures by corporations “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” If Wall Street bankers told members of Congress that they would spend millions of dollars to defeat anyone who opposed their bailout, and then did so, it would certainly look corrupt.

My book predicted that the situation would only worsen with time, but I had no idea how little time it would take. We can forget any gentle solution to America’s national financial woes. What tiny shred of possibility there was of reducing special-interest claims on taxpayer money disappeared on Thursday. The nation will be bled dry by corporations focused on their own financial health, and oblivious to the nation’s.

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