VIEWPOINT: Corporations & Individuals: Where is the balance of power?

Apr 14, 2012

This month’s conversation topic is: "Corporations & Individuals: Where is the balance of power?"

In conjunction with the conversation, two local citizens provide their perspectives on the impact that the Citizens United Supreme Court decision and recent state laws requiring voter identification will have on individual access and corporate influence in our political process.

Susan Robertson
League of Women Voters

We need full disclosure and greater individual participation in our political processes.

In Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court held that corporations have the same rights as individuals to contribute to and participate in political campaigns, without limits or disclosure.

The League of Women Voters believes that no entity should be allowed to spend unlimited funds to influence elections, especially if it’s unclear who’s footing the bill.

The ruling allows organizations to air ads on behalf of a candidate without his/her knowledge or consent, allowing them to flood the media with false and misleading information, while the candidate disavows responsibility for the message. Foreign entities, too, can spend unlimited money, anonymously — giving them unparalleled influence in the outcome of U.S. elections.

We believe full and swift disclosure of money spent on electioneering is paramount to protecting our democratic process. Yet, as corporate influence increases, states are limiting individuals’ access. Michigan’s Senate recently passed laws that suppress the vote by making it harder for people to register to vote and harder for them to exercise their vote — part of a nationwide push that relies on two falsehoods.

First, that fraud in the form of voter impersonation is rampant. An idea disputed by Michigan county clerks who attest there’s no evidence of that — documented or alleged — and the same is true nationally. Second, that every honest voter can easily produce the documents demanded. This is equally untrue. Obtaining an original birth certificate, for example, can be costly and difficult; particularly if you don’t have public transportation, are elderly or physically challenged, or must leave work to accommodate the hours of offices that provide such documents. Erecting barriers to voting when no need has been demonstrated will have a chilling effect on democracy.

Do we have the right balance of power between corporations and individuals in our political process? Recent changes are foreboding; only when full disclosure is achieved will we know for sure.

Jim Chiodo
President of Ottawa County Patriots

Citizens United: This case, brought by a nonprofit, challenged laws barring corporate expenditures on electioneering communications, citing violation of First Amendment speech. The court agreed that government may not suppress political speech based on a speaker's identity and no governmental interest justified limiting speech for nonprofit or for-profit corporations. Thus, when government regulates political communication on the basis of a speaker's corporate identity, it damages the integrity of our electoral process. This ruling leveled the playing field by removing government as arbiter of who could or could not exercise political speech.

Voter ID Law: Is fraud rampant, based on convictions? Why not ask, “Is tax fraud rampant? Epidemic identity theft yields the potential, if not likelihood, of voter fraud. High-profile examples expose the ease of obtaining ballots of well-known people (i.e., U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder). Although dismissed as “manufactured," no amount of spin can hide the ease which voter fraud is possible. Contrast the hypocrisy of organized labor and its opposition to voter ID laws contrasted with their own elections, where picture ID is required. Add millions of noncitizens falsifying identity to obtain jobs and the existence of fraud is obvious. To say voter ID disenfranchises anyone is equal to saying they are disenfranchised from cashing checks, driving a car and even obtaining public assistance — all activities where identity is required.

Balance of power : A prominent sports, TV or entertainment figure will always garner more public media exposure than the ordinary citizen. Should the media be restricted from coverage of Lady Gaga in favor or ordinary citizens? Should political opinions of Hollywood actors be regulated? Should grassroots organizations be given equal time? (This includes weaving a political ideology into TV sitcoms and movies). If corporations have more power via election expenditures and need to be restricted, we might as well regulate that an attractive person gets more dates than a less attractive one. 

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