No Campaign Limits?

greed is good imagesIn a ruling that has overwhelming implications for how elections are funded, the Supreme Court has struck down a key campaign-finance restriction that prevents corporations and unions from pouring money into political ads.In a 5-4 ruling, in the Citizens United v. FEC case,  the door is now wide open for unrestricted amounts of corporate money to flow into American politics.  The Republican-appointed right-wing five members of the court explicitly said that corporations are "persons" under the law, and thus entitled to Constitutional rights just like the Founders fought and died to give to you and me.  The four dissenters pointed out that corporations will now own politicians, will dominate our politics, and that democracy itself is now at risk.  Bennito Mussolini invented a new form of government where corporations ran the government - he called it "fascism."  Welcome to Mussolini's America.

President Obama is proposing now “giving bank regulators the power to limit the size of the nation’s largest banks and the scope of their risk-taking activities,” an idea “championed by Paul A. Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve and an adviser to the Obama administration. The proposal would prohibit commercial banks from proprietary trading for their own accounts.  If true, and if he really does it right, this could signal a major change in direction for President Obama, away from giving the banksters whatever they want and toward protecting the average person from these corporate predators.


Dan (not verified) 14 years 22 weeks ago

I don't understand how the court doesn't see this as more rights for the corporation than for the individual. If the individual is limited and not allowed to spend freely for a candidate, then how can the corporation be allowed unlimited privilege. I understand the money can't be directly given, but is John Q. Public allowed to take out anti-Palin ads on television by this new standard?

This could be a win for Democrats. In an odd sort of twist, companies that might support Sarah Palin (good Lord), might actually come out of their proverbial closet. I might be able to win the argument with my Republican friends to not vote for her because Exxon is paying for her so they can bilk them on gas later.

A competitive ad might sound like "Sarah Palin is backed by Exxon, but who is backing you America?"

This will backlash. If a corporation is a 'person' under the law, how can they be expected to pay less tax than a 'person'? Equal rights ought to mean equal responsibility.

Nice work Thom in identifying the villians in America.

Nathan F (not verified) 14 years 22 weeks ago

Man did they time this to just make all the left just give up. I recently re-read the part of 1984 where Winston reads Goldstein's book. Talk about scary. Just think of the Texas school board and now this ruling, ye gads.

Mike (not verified) 14 years 22 weeks ago

Campaign finance reform has done nothing to get corruption out of politics, but it has been effective at keeping corrupt politicians in politics.

It's not money that corrupts it's the lure of arbitrary political power. A true crusader against political corruption would not strip American citizens of their right to free speech; he would seek to put an end to the government's power to grant special favors to any group.

Do large contributions buy political favors? They can, but only because politicians "have power to grant special favors to special interests in the first place. Take away that power and politicians will have nothing to sell.

To those who claim that in the absence of campaign controls, wealthy private citizens or corporations would have the power to censor the speech of others, Only the government has the power to stifle free speech and replace persuasion with coercion and I add that "Private citizens or corporations can refuse to support, finance or promote ideas or candidates they disagree with--which is their inalienable right--but they cannot forcibly suppress them.

A wealthy individual, for example, can spend lavishly on ads, even buy an entire newspaper or broadcast station, to convince Americans of his viewpoint; he cannot force us to listen or agree.

At the same time a candidate lacking money is free to seek financial support from citizens who agree with him, whether it be a few wealthy individuals or millions of like-minded Americans who are willing to put their money where his mouth is.

If stopping the selling of favors in Washington is the goal, why does no one demand that we simply enforce the laws that make such action illegal? After all, we combat police corruption by prosecuting officers who take kickbacks to overlook crimes. We combat judicial corruption by prosecuting judges who accept bribes in exchange for making unjust rulings. Why not similarly go after Congressmen who trade legislative decisions for campaign contributions?

Because the depressing fact is that most of the dispensing of favors, and punishments, is done within the law. Unlike the police or judges, Congressmen (and many other government officials) have legally acquired arbitrary power. They routinely make decisions that are governed, not by objective fact or principle, but by subjective preference.

Suppose that Congress is considering "The Pristine Nature Act," which would close vast tracts of private land to logging and commercial development. A few timber companies argue that such restrictions on their property would be unfair and hurt their profits. The local homeowners association supports the bill, because it would allow residents to maintain their traditional, bucolic lifestyle. And environmentalists clamor that the trees must be protected from mankind.

What basis should a Congressman use in making his decision? The common answer is that he should do whatever furthers the "public interest." But which parties count as the "public" and so gain the privilege of having their interests advanced? The timber companies? The neighboring residents? The environmentalists? The trees? The people who would have lived in the houses that would have been built with the timber that would have been harvested? Each is as plausible as the other.

In cases like this, which are endless, the non-objective standard of the "public interest" justifies any decision. Which really means: there is no guiding principle, there is only expediency. A Congressman simply latches on to whatever arguments he finds convenient. The presence or absence of campaign contributions from an affected party is thus as "convincing" a factor as anything else. In fact, this is the essence of lobbying--donating money to an official so that the giver can be granted the magical title of "the public."

This kind of arbitrary power--not money--is the fundamental source of influence-peddling in Washington. And a true opponent of government corruption would seek to restore the system that was created precisely to eliminate such power: the American system of individual rights. He would advocate the principle that the rights of the individual, including property rights and freedom of speech, are inalienable, and that no invocation of the "public interest" can justify their abrogation. He would realize that the indefinable rule of the "public interest" is what gives government officials unlimited power. He would see that only a severely limited government--limited by the standard of individual rights--has no arbitrary powers to exercise, and to sell.

EconDemocracy (not verified) 14 years 22 weeks ago

I'll let others reply to the absurdities in the above "scrap all Public Interest considerations" nonsense. I have one question for you, Thom.

And if you don't know the answer, may I please request you have it researched?

EconDemocracy (not verified) 14 years 22 weeks ago

(continued from above)


We citizens should then mobilize to invoke it when SCOTUS takes completely insane (not merely run of the mill, anti-democratic soak-the-poor(and middle class) but really insane rulings, like this.

Please let us know what this clause is, Thom,
-E.D. (

Chuck Kottke (not verified) 14 years 22 weeks ago

Hello Thom!
Great program on the bad ruling by the high court. I think it's interesting how the corporatist right-wing justices on the supreme court speak pseudo-prophetically about the protection of freedom of corporate speech they want, but completely ignore our right to fair elections. The ninth amendment states "The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." It's obvious to all what the problems is - money buys influence, and sways elections - those who have more of it to spend on ads, contributions, and lobbyists will have very good odds of getting what they want, often to the detriment of the citizenry as a whole, and to those honest business living by higher ethical standards. The moneyed investors in essence are voting multiple times, using their money indirectly to buy votes, and to weaken government's role as the arbiter of fair play. And while freedom of speech is important, as we loose honest government, we loose those protections of our rights that government is set up to protect, including individual free speech. So, I believe the right to Fair Elections (& thus Fair Contests for Office), including equal access to the media for qualifying candidates, is an essential right by which all other rights are protected. A limit on contributions to no more than what the working class citizen can afford after paying all the bills seems reasonable as a start. A citizen's advocate that acts as a go-between for any interest group lobbying Congress or the President needs inclusion, such that an added check and balance is put into place. Equal access to the public airwaves before an election, since the broadcast spectrum is a commons to which broadcasters have been granted a special privilege to use, and they owe the country use of those frequencies during critical times, to which the citizenry is entitled a fair opportunity for viewing candidate broadcast time.
To unravel the gordian's knot and find the beginning of the line, I think we need to start with getting honest candidates elected by a combination of forces: (1) more grass-roots information on where the money is going and what it is buying, voting records, and real legislative results, (2) a non-profit dedicated to amassing numerous small contributions to use as a carrot to qualifying candidates who eschew special interest and big donor money in favor of a broad swath of support in the district. and (3) publicly shaming those who take the big lumps of money, to heighten awareness of the candidate's true behaviors, and to act as a lever to dissuade them from taking the bribes.
What would Ray McGovern have to say about that?

hypsypops (not verified) 14 years 22 weeks ago

Let's post " Congressman for sale" on ebay with all corporate bidders welcome. Or hey why stop there "Government for sale". Did the ruling say foreign corporations can contribute to a senator or other official? It may have to go on the millionaire ebay site though just so you can't buy them too cheaply.Just my 2¢


Chuck Kottke (not verified) 14 years 22 weeks ago

Hey hypsypops, do you remember the song "Hey, I Bought Me a Senator!"? I think if we pool our money, maybe 250 million of us donating 2 bucks each might buy two. Collect all 50 pairs, and you're a winner! Then appoint some real Supreme Court Justices, or add two new ones. It seems the species of honest justices needs some more new members, lest they go extinct.

joeconsani (not verified) 14 years 22 weeks ago

Hey're being way too intellectual about this. this is much simpler and more heinous than that. This reeks of Rove and Scalia. I understand the move was strategized last year. The whole point of this is, in essence, Mr. Rove inspired if not Rove directly looking to see where power can be brought to bear to impose the neoconservative ideology on America by force. This move is directly a move to give the advantage to the conservatives. We have to acknowledge Fox News has been effective in using the media to manipulate ill informed and gullible Americans. This adds an entirely new dimension to the game. Rupert Murdoch and the WSJ are already celebrating this decision in suppor of "free speech." Obama the Whimp needs to give up this BS. "team of rivals" dream. The conservatives of today are not interested in his ovations. The only game they will ever play is the no holds barred we are mortal enemies game - no matter the cost to America. Billions of dollars in personal income for them are at stake for them with every presidential election, and all the history shows that they wills stop at nothing to win that opportunity - they have demonstrated election fraud, politization of the judicial, fear and warmongering, trickle down economics, andy and every strategy to fill their pocketbooks. These are evil people. I used to think not, but the more I look, the worse it gets...

Shyla (not verified) 14 years 22 weeks ago

Thomm, I used to catch your program on the am 1090 in Seattle a couple times a month. Those few programs intrigued me so much that I decided to subscribe to your podcast. I can now proudly claim I am a Thomm Hartman show junkie. Thank you for opening my eyes. The purpose of my email is the supreme courts decision today to remove all barriers against corporate donations to politicians. Now, I've become a bit more savvy in todays political decisions (thanks to you and other progressive talk shows), and I was completely unaware of this. Not only am I disgusted beyond explanation that our judicial branch would pass such a blatantly corporatist law, but that NO ONE SAID ANYTHING ABOUT IT. They snuck another one past us. I'm sorry Thomm, but Canada has never looked so nice. I know things aren't perfect there but at least their court systems pull this shit (pardon my language), and they have universal health care. Thank you for all that you do Thomm. I look forward to your program every day.

Neila Chaouch (not verified) 14 years 22 weeks ago

Here is something a very smart man, Dana Paxton, posted on Facebook: "Here's an idea: why don't ALL the citizens of this country incorporate, as say, as The American People Corporation? Then we could share the rights and powers of today's great corporations. We wouldn't need political parties any more. We could buy whatever laws we wanted. We could outbid anyone we wanted to. We could fire the CEO, and elect new board members at will. What do you think?"

Thersa (not verified) 14 years 22 weeks ago

Thom, Couldn't we amend the Constitution to specifically ban corporate personhood? Is anyone working on this? I'd like to get involved.

irishdave3 (not verified) 14 years 22 weeks ago

In mathematical terms the formula is (Black) Persons=Property(1857)...(Property)Corporations=Persons(2010). As the IWW used to say Better the Government runs the Railroads, than the Railroad runs the Government.

Rick in Canadia (not verified) 14 years 22 weeks ago

Looking from up here in Canada;
Scary stuff. As if voting machines and slams at Acorn etc. weren't enough to get the Republicans back in power as they believe is their right..
Now your Supreme Board of Directors has opened up the floodgates for propaganda spending.

I hear they are adding the word 'Republican' so it is now SCROTUS.
I hear that to make corporations 5/5 of a person they had to find a few tenths somewhere else so African Americans and Progressives are down to 3/5 ths.

A few questions?
Will this money be deductable as a 'cost of doing business'? Would they then have to defend the spending as 'reasonable' or 'necessary' to the business?
If it is deductable then you are helping them out with tax dollars.

If there is attempt to counter this with regulation or some sort of amendment, I assume companies are now free to spend whatever they want to counter that..
If they do, are there any rules to make public who spent the money and how much?

The timing of all this is spooky; Mass. election, Health Care tanking, now the ruling.. It isn't hiding things; it is 'Shock and Awe'.

I can only hope that Pres. Obama takes this as a sign and opportunity to do what he needs to do however he needs to do it. If the Republicans can go through all this and have people forget or ignore their sleazy methods, there should be nothing to stop the Democrats. I say 'should'.
Faint hope? It might be when companies can now describe to the elected officials all the ways they can destroy them with spending..

Good luck, I'm going back to CBC for a while.
Some day soon we will kick out our little neo-con Harper. Hopefully it will be before he stuffs our Supreme Court like he is doing with the Senate.
Is that what it is all about? If so I hope Pres. Obama can hang in long enough to appoint some justices that are as progressive as Roberts et al are Corporatist.
Rick in Canadia

Katie H (not verified) 14 years 22 weeks ago

Thom - my first comment. :)

Here's a thought for getting the attention of all sides of the political (including low info voter) spectrum:

Since now corporations can buy our government via money/votes AND those same corporations are often controlled by foreign interests, pass a law that all corporations now must reside in the USA, pay taxes in the USA, and pass the same kind of 'immigration' rules as 'persons'.

This isn't a final solution - more a way of getting people to pay attention.

Thanks for all you do,

Katie in Seattle

glenn N (not verified) 14 years 22 weeks ago

if corporations are persons, then the must declare if they are male or female. then, a male corporation cannot merge with another male corporation, and a female corporation cannot merge with a female corporation, or it will hurt the institution of marraige.
if corporations are people, then they can run for president???
AIG for president 2012!!!! woo hoo!!!

radwriter (not verified) 14 years 22 weeks ago

This ruling is totally corrupt and utterly appalling.
However, why not use it?

Corporations have the best of all possible worlds in the US. They have all human rights without human penalties.

Why not repeal all corporate tax regs. and subject them to the rates and regs. of single humans?

Why not subject them to all human criminal statutes, including penalties: charter revocation for causing the death of another person (including the death of another corporation [Mercedes Benz re: Chrysler]) and operating under a trustee and removal of officers for a number of years as a jail sentence for a non-capital offense?

For those which see and have declared themselves to be global companies instead of American why are they eligible for 14th Amendent protections when the Amendment clearly states that it applies only to citizens born here or naturalized?

For those which set up dummy HQs abroad, why are they not illegal aliens?

Al W. (not verified) 14 years 22 weeks ago

If the Supreme Court is going to continue to say that the 14th Amendment grants corperations all rights that the Constitution grants people, then the 13th amendment should outlaw the stock market and the ability of one corperation to own another. If a corperation is a person then both of these practices are slavery.

jim Saxton (not verified) 14 years 22 weeks ago

The recent Supreme Court decision that allows corporations to spend as much money as they wish for political purposes will transform the United States into a Fascist state. We need to correct this before we end up with all political decisions being done by directive from corporate board rooms.

My solution is a simple fix. It protects free speech as well as protecting our political system. In this age of international terrorism we need to insure that we are not empowering foreign iinterests or international terrorists by protecting our political speech.

I propose that we make a new classification for business, the International business entity. This classification would have all the legal protections that we apply to corporations but are not considered individuals and have no individual civil rights.

Any corporation not incorporated within the United states will fall into this classification.

Any corporation with more than 100 million dollars in assets and has less than 75% of its shareholders are American citizens would also fall into this category.

As well, any corporation which has less than 75% US citizen employees would also be an international business entity.

This would prevent International corporations from having undue influence on the American political system. It protects the speech rights of American corporations whose interest is American stockholders and American employees. Let's do this before we all required start speaking Chinese, or our women start wearing burqa.

Ray Mathis (not verified) 14 years 22 weeks ago

Thom, I think we need to start making a distinction between “free” speech and “purchased” speech. A corporate CEO’s free speech is no more impaired or prevented than mine is just because he can’t run commercials. He is still just as free as I to write a letter to the editor, call a talk show, speak up at a town hall meeting, stand on a soap box and give a speech to anyone who’ll listen, etc. We have equal treatment under the law. However, when it comes to running expensive commercials in favor of a candidate of your choice, that speech is anything but “free”. The most, loudest, longest and best goes to the highest bidder or those with the greatest ability to afford it. This wrong-headed Supreme Court decision has literally used the law, or at least their interpretation of it, to create significant inequalities among people in our society in their ability to express their preference for one candidate over another, and therefore violated equal treatment under the law. “Purchased” speech is not the same as “free speech”. Realistically, I no longer have equal opportunity under the law to express my preference for a candidate in the same way a much wealthier CEO of a corporation now can. Whether that was their intention, or it was inadvertent, they've created an inequality of opportunity just as much as if they had made your income a determinant in your eligibility to express your preference for one candidate over another. I encourage you to start to make the distinction between “free” and “purchased” speech in addressing this issue.

Jeff (not verified) 14 years 21 weeks ago

Hi Thom,

I read through the blogs and some of them touched on the subject as to what should congress do about this new ruling.
I for one think that congress should change the definition of Corporation as a person to a business entity. The religious right should like this one; a person is one that has a soul (maybe include this), is male or female, and is able to marry (notice I said able), die, eat, breath, pay taxes, go to the restroom. Basically, a person is a human being and not some conglomeration of individuals that the basic motive is profit.
ONLY Persons that can vote should be able to participate in campaigns. Yes this would eliminate the unions but they are currently minor figures in contributions compared to what corporations will contribute.
If it has to be so:
Make it so that corporations cannot advertise under phony names or non-profit corporations.
Make it so that corporations must use the parent companies name at the beginning of the commercial stating support for the subject or person.
Make it so that the political advertising is not a tax write-off.
Make is so that only corporations that are 100% American owned can participate in politics.
Religious corporations that claim nontax status cannot participate in politics.
Just a thought, congress can set the laws. The Supreme Court is supposed to rule if they are constitutional.


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