“Citizens United” for More Corporate Power

With the Supreme Court ruling by the “Fabulous Five,” Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a single corporation will be able tap into its deep pockets and disfranchise a million citizens. A group calling itself “Citzens United” has just won a fight to give huge corporations more control over our politics. Even the 1886 “ruling,” Santa Clara Co. v. Southern Pacific, that established a corporation as “a person” was fraudulent. Now these fictive “persons” have been granted more political rights than real human beings. What’s to stop these conglomerates from using their vast stores of cash to implant their servants at every level of municipal, state, and federal government?

It’s unfortunate that influential commentators, such as the New York Times’ David Kirkpatrick, are blind to the grave implications of Citizens United v. FEC. Whether Kirkpatrick and others at the highest echelons of American punditry understand it or not the fact is that the next ten to twelve years promise to be a turning point in American democracy unless some drastic civic action is taken to blunt the effects of this egregious example of Far Right judicial activism. “Polls have shown that relatively few people understand or are even aware of the campaign finance rules,” Kirkpatrick writes, and “some politicians say reformers . . . are unrealistic about how money and politicians mix.” Kirkpatrick’s point: Just go to sleep people — nothing to see here. This over-reaching, game-changing Supreme Court ruling won’t adversely affect anything. No worries.

Corporations are immortal. They don’t need health care, or minimum wages, or pensions, or food stamps. They don’t raise children and have families. They have no morality or ethics other than maximizing their profits. They are sociopathic.

One example of corporate sociopathology from the dawn of our corporation-loving era involves the Reagan Administration’s deregulatory zeal and the pharmaceutical industry. Beginning as far back as the 1960s medical studies had shown a link between the use of aspirin, to relieve the symptoms of childhood diseases such as chicken pox, with the potential to develop Reye’s syndrome, a disease that can cause severe damage to the liver, brain, and other organs, as well as death. For years pediatricians had been warning parents not to give their children aspirin when they had chicken pox or other viral infections. In 1981, the Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) decided to alert consumers to the danger, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) followed suit, citing a “consensus of the scientific experts” calling for new warning labels on children’s aspirin. The pharmaceutical industry responded by funding an astroturf group called the “Committee on the Care of Children” that launched an aggressive public lobbying campaign against the new rule. On November 18, 1982, Reagan’s HSS Secretary, Richard Schweiker, withdrew the labeling mandate saying the idea had been “premature.”

The battle over the warning labels continued until 1986 when the Reagan Administration finally capitulated to public pressure and imposed the new regulation. In 1980, there had been 555 reported cases of Reye’s syndrome, but the year after the labeling requirement went into effect there were only thirty-six. A study by the National Academy of Sciences and the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley found that of the hundreds of children who died of Reye’s syndrome between 1981 and 1986, 1,470 could have been saved if aspirin had been properly labeled. “These 1,470 deaths were especially tragic,” the report concluded, “because they were, typically, healthy children who never recovered from the viral infection of chicken pox.” Here is but one example of corporations willing to kill American children just to save a few pennies on each bottle of aspirin by not printing new warning labels.

And there are countless other examples of corporations egregiously violating societal norms and humane conduct that far exceed the level of damage that an individual citizen could ever cause, such as when Big Coal chews up rural communities with “mountain top removal” mining; or theMcWayne foundry brutalizes its workers; or Cargill uses meat processing subcontractors that spread E. coli across the country; or Nestlé’s rips off Sacramento’s municipal water supply in a time of drought; or Wal-Mart and other “big box” stores obliterate main street America; or Blackwater and Haliburton profiteer from war; or media conglomerates function as corporate propaganda ministries; or Aetna and other health insurance giants prey on the American people like vultures; or ExxonMobil and the energy monopolies flaunt environmental laws and gouge consumers; or the financial services companies bring down the American economy and trade derivatives based on life insurance policies betting that Americans are going to die sooner than later; and so on, and on, and on.

Today, we have levels of inequality worse than the Gilded Age and the “trusts” are bigger, more powerful, and possess a global reach that is greater than ever. The corporations have already given the country years of disastrous public policy. The health care fiasco shows their power to pull the strings in Congress. And George W. Bush’s Supreme Court drops enormous new political powers in the laps of these corporate behemoths? So much for Chief Justice John Roberts’ promises during his confirmation hearing to respect stare decisis. Just when you think our politics couldn’t get worse you get surprised again.

Joseph Palermo

Originally published by the Huffington Post. Reprinted with permission from the author


  1. Jill Vassilakos-Long says

    Hi Joseph,
    Our local League of Women Voters is going to have a meeting to discuss Citizen’s United. We have a newsletter that is disseminated to about 50 League Members. May I use your cartoon in the newsletter (with attribution).

  2. says

    Writer Joe Palermo cogently reminds us of the out-of-control doctrine that a corporation can be an immortal person. It’s time to at least impose mortality limits!

    However, from my perspective the Supreme Court decision is not as draconian as Joe suggests. The so-called ‘enormous new powers’ is the power which corporations and other rich have always had since private mass-media developed in this country – namely to broadcast lies, half-truth and irrelevance.

    That power goes as far as we continue to accept legitimacy of a boob-tube electorate that without challenge believes and does what it is told. The irony with us getting worked up over this problem so late in the game is of course is that with Internet an even half-conscious voter can in short order examine all sides and find out what all sides are saying – and even, with some probing, accounts of what the candidates have actually done.

    So there’s no reason to accept boob-tube legitimacy. There’s every reason to require a voter in any partisan contest to at least swear that they have visited each candidate’s web-site.

    I agree, all our election rules and maybe this new one together may seem a bit daunting. That’s one of many reasons why, frankly, anyhow I oppose elections. More important, I reject the notion that the main thing we ordinary citizens should be doing is deciding which other people should be given all policy-making power as needless but all-powerful long-term officers.

    Instead – and less complicated and cheaper – let’s have real democracy, where each of us (if willing) directly helps to make or review a few actual policy decisions. Each policy decision should be made by a short-term last-ad-hoc dliberating jury of willing ordinary citizens. And each decision should be independently and precautionarily reviewed, with power to confirm or veto, by another such jury.

    Our present constitutional scheme is all out of the Roman republic, in disregard of the strong point of Athenian-style jury democracy. Our oligarchic scheme (with elections as a populist veneer) worked when promulgated 223 years ago, with far fewer people and even fewer actual citizens, and far lower education levels. It’s entirely out of date now. The average reasonably educated citizen now is far better equipped to help make public policy decisions – yet has far less power to do so – than in the America of 1776 which revolted against ‘taxation without representation’.

    • in_awe says

      The average reasonably educated citizen now is far better equipped to help make public policy decisions – yet has far less power to do so – than in the America of 1776 which revolted against ‘taxation without representation’.

      I would argue that we may have peaked decades ago in terms citizen education, decision making skills, and public interest.

      Also, the arc of federal taxation policy is moving us closer and closer to a point where will have ‘representation without taxation’ for the majority of citizens. Once that threshold is reached, voters will be tempted to pursue self-serving voting decisions where they gain the benefit of policy with no associated cost or risk. We will see the domination of the “don’t tax you, don’t tax me – tax the man behind the tree” approach to government spending running wild.

      A survey taken in CA in a recent year found that the majority of voters in favor of bond measures didn’t realize that bonds had to be repaid and that the total cost of a bond issue including interest expense is generally twice the stated cost in propositions. A widely reported series of man in the street radio interviews in Detroit last year at the time of federal handouts had the people waiting in line explaining that the money was “coming from Obama”. When asked where Obama got it, they said he’s President so he just has it to give.

      So, unless you are willing to impose some form of voter/jury intelligence, income and qualification test, the decisions you would get would soon make us long for the good ol’ days of Congress.

  3. in_awe says

    Joseph, you are better than that. There were two issues raised that you dodged in your reply.

    What do you propose as a solution to sociopathic behavior by people within corporations or government? As long as you have humans in positions of power and influence there will be bad actors. What do you want done about being able to throttle their anti-social actions?

    Should Wilson have been removed for jailing dissidents for opposing entry into WWI, or FDR impeached for interring Nissei during WWII? What should have been done to RFK for advancing a plot in collusion with the Mafia to assassinate Castro?

    Do you act before a corporate official employs a certain action? Based on what? What is your threshold and basis for for action? Who decides?

    You seem to believe that bad behavior can be stopped. How would you do that?

    I guess from your reply you really aren’t an ardent defender of stare decisis – you are only when you agree with its outcome. So, I guess you are in league with the SCOTUS – sometimes you abide by precedent, and sometimes you don’t.


  4. in_awe says

    So what is the ultimate solution that you recommend to end the “sociopathic behavior of corporations? Nationalize them all? Insert a representative of a White House Czar into every corporation to approve all actions taken by that corporation? Practically speaking, what are you envisioning?

    BTW have you ever heard of Wilson’s incarceration of war protestors? The Tuskegee Experiment? Or state government eugenics laws? What about Bill Ayers’ idea that “re-education camps” might have to process 25MM Americans in order to get everyone on the same page? There are hundreds of examples of government sociopathology here and abroad.

    Also, is your demand for respect for stare decisis limited to McCain-Feingold or do oppose all instances where stare decisis was violated?

    Let me refresh your memory about a few good instances of violating stare decisis:
    – Brown v. Board of Education (1954), overturned Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)
    – Gideon v. Wainwright (1963), which established the constitutional right to a free public defender in felony cases, overruled Betts v. Brady (1942);
    – Mapp v. Ohio (1961), which applied the exclusionary rule to state court prosecutions, overruled Wolf v. Colorado (1949)
    – In 2003, in Lawrence v. Texas, the Court found a constitutional right to perform acts of homosexual sodomy, thereby overturning the 1986 decision in Bowers v. Hardwick.

    So, are you still an ardent defender of stare decisis?


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