Imagine going to the grocery store. You stop in to get your milk, your bread and eggs. But something is different this time. While buying your breakfast for the next morning, you get a nonstop sales pitch for the upcoming elections. Down one aisle is a TV telling you who to vote for in the upcoming city council election. With your receipt, the cashier gives you a brochure for a candidate running for Congress and with it a coupon for $25 off your next visit if you sign a supporter card. On your way out the door, you see a banner across the front of the building advertising a rally the next day with the state's gubernatorial candidate and the CEO of the store.I know this may seem like an extreme example of how things may play out in the future, but I think it's important that we recognize that there is no reason why this may not happen with the recent Supreme Court decision.
What if you were a Republican shopper and all the candidates being pushed were Democrats? Or vice versa? What if every Wal-Mart supported Sarah Palin and every Starbucks backed Harry Reid? Even if your 401K owned stock in Bank of America you couldn't stop them from flooding the airwaves with ads attacking the candidate you support for president, paid for with your own retirement nest egg.
This is not some fairy tale or even hyperbole. It's what could now pass as reality thanks to today's Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
Here is how the New York Times described the decisions:
Overruling two important precedents about the First Amendment rights of corporations, a bitterly divided Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the government may not ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections.Keith Olbermann also gave a pretty scathing Special Comment about the decision last night:
The ruling represented a sharp doctrinal shift, and it will have major political and practical consequences. Specialists in campaign finance law said they expected the decision to reshape the way elections were conducted. Though the decision does not directly address them, its logic also applies to the labor unions that are often at political odds with big business.
The silver lining is that congress should be able to do something to rein the corporations in. What that will be or whether congress will get over its own ineptitude is unclear though.