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Happy Birthday, Granny D

The Supreme Court has come up with a heck of a birthday present for Granny D.

Dorris Haddock – Granny D — walked across the country to rally support for campaign reform 10 years ago, when she was 90 years old.  She turns 100 on January 24.

She writes at Common Dreams of the thousands of Americans she talked to on her trek who are “heartsick” over “the current state of our politics.”

Now “the Supreme Court, representing a radical fringe that does not share the despair of the grand majority of Americans,” is “open[ing] the floodgates to usher in a new tsunami of corporate money into politics.”

Granny D proposes more states follow the lead of Arizona, Connecticut, and Maine with clean election laws, provide public funding for candidates who agree to refuse special interest money .  She thinks public financing would probably save states money by reducing the corruption tax.  Senator Durbin has proposed such legislation in Congress (Maine is currently celebrating its tenth year of clean elections).

She also suggests voters in states with direct initiative enact laws expanding the definition of conflict of interest, barring elected officials from supporting any action that offers special special gain to a major donor.

That sounds like it’s aimed directly at Michael Madigan, but he’s really just the guy who works the system to his own advantage better than anybody else.  (Already Illinois gubernatorial candidates are finding loopholes in the new campaign law and taking money from state contractors, according to the Daily Herald.)   It was 150 years ago that a European observer called American democracy “a swamp of corruption,” and that swamp has only gotten more opaque and impenetrable since the rise of the modern global corporation in the last 50 years.  It’s a swamp where reforms and decent policies become hopelessly mired.

A big factor has been the soaring costs of campaigns conducted largely through television advertising – and big media are corrupted when their news coverage is skewed toward the characters who are paying them the most money – which is why Walter Conkrite’s proposal that issue-based coverage be mandated as part of the public interest requirement of broadcast licenses continues to make sense.

Things will get worse now. “The Court’s ruling could transform our electoral politics,” writes Doug Kendall of the Constitutional Accountability Center. “During 2008 alone, Exxon Mobil Corporation generated profits of $45 billion.”  Now all limits on its political spending are lifted.  “With a diversion of even two percent of those profits to the political process, this one company could have outspent both presidential candidates and fundamentally changed the dynamic of the 2008 election.”

Obviously, including unions in this equation, as some sort of counterpart to corporate power, is missing the point.

The larger point is the myth of “corporate personhood,” which Justice John Paul Stevens takes on in his “powerful” and detailed dissent – CAC’s Xan White provides highlights.  CAC has also recently released a discussion draft of a report on the topic (pdf):

“Far from extending to corporations all the rights and freedoms people enjoy, under the Constitution from the founding on, corporations have been treated as uniquely powerful artificial entities created to fuel economic growth – that necessarily must be subjected to substantial government regulation in service of the public good.”

Reclaim Democracy has a good overview of the issue, with links to court rulings and lots of analyses.  The Program on Corporations, Law, and Democracy is the group that first raised the issue.

“The Supreme Court’s expansion of corporate free speech rights under the First Amendment further entrenches corporate power in the law of the land,” says the Alliance for Democracy. “It is a stunning setback for American democracy and a crime against the rights of ordinary people.”

AFD is part of a campaign to amend the Constitution to explicitly establish that corporations are not persons entitled to constitutional rights, and “money is not speech.”  Call it the Granny D Amendment.

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