Money talks

“We’re here today to talk about Move to Amend, the push to …

(Stunned silence as an animated dollar bill walks into the room, waving his gloved cartoon hands in the air to gain attention. He clears his throat.)

“Hi there!! I’m money! I can talk!’’

The dollar strikes an endearing pose and bats his eyes.

“I don’t just talk! The Supreme Court says I’m speeeeeech.’’

“That’s ridiculous. You’re an inanimate object.’’

“Whatever. You can call me Bill. The name works for me and all my friends, the $50, the $10. Doesn’t matter! Even a Bill-y-un! We’re all Bills! He-men Bills! No chicks on any of our faces!’’

“But you’re not a person!’’

(Rumbling sound. Plaster begins to fall from the ceiling. Through a gaping hole in the room steps a 40-story building. In a booming voice…).

“HI THERE!”

“Good Lord! You can speak too?”

“OF COURSE. I’M A CORPORATION!”

“Yeah, I can see it says that on your façade – hey, I think that falling plaster broke my leg!”

“HA HA! CAN’T MAKE AN OMELET WITHOUT BREAKING A FEW LEGS!”

“That’s eggs – wait, why would a building want an omelet?”

“THE SUPREME COURT SAYS I’M A PERSON! PEOPLE LIKE OMELETS.  HI BILL!”

“Hi! Can we talk? I’m everywhere! Talking! I never get tired! Of talking!’’

“HA HA, TALK AWAY, BILL! NEED ANY IDEAS ON WHAT TO SAY? I HAVE LOTS OF IDEAS!”

***

The preceding was a fantasy. Except it’s a reality. One created by Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that said corporations can contribute to PACs under the First Amendment’s right to free speech. The 5-4 vote overturned a century of campaign law restricting campaign spending by unions and corporations and helped codify the theory that corporations are people.

A lot of people predicted Citizens United would lead to an explosion in campaign spending. They were right. In 2016, candidates running for federal office spend $6.4 billion campaigning. Meanwhile, lobbyists spent $3.15 billion trying to shape federal legislation. In each instance, those totals doubled the amount spent in 2000.

Citizens United didn’t lead to straight-up bribery. Offering a congressman money in return for a favor is still illegal. Instead, Citizens United led to the rise of super PACs, which can’t directly coordinate with a candidate, but can collect unlimited amounts of money from the wealthy to campaign for or against candidates, ballot initiatives, or legislation.

The non-profit, non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics reports that spending by overall outside groups – not just super PACs but by dark money groups and other organizations – topped $1.5 billion in 2016, up 43 percent from the previous presidential race. Spending by outside groups in North Carolina’s U.S. Senate contest topped $77 million alone. In 2016, 135 wealthy donors each gave more than $1 million to outside groups.

Consider the income disparity this country currently experiences. David Koch and his brother, as of Feb. 28 of this year, were each worth $47 billion. Forty-seven billion is 831,412 times the annual median U.S. household income.

The Kochs throw around a lot of money for candidates and political causes. Back in June at a Koch-sponsored gathering one donor said his “Dallas piggy bank” was closed until Congress would “Get Obamacare repealed and replaced, get tax reform passed. Get it done and we’ll open it back up.”

if you’re a congressperson on the phone five hours a day trying to raise campaign money from that group of people, odds are good you’re going to pick up some of their views. You might even wind up trying over and over to pass a health care “reform’’ bill that polls slightly below a bucket of warm spit.

Here’s a remedy to this problem:

“We, the People of the United States of America, reject the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling and other related cases, and move to amend our Constitution to firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.’’

That’s the language in the Move to Amend push for a constitutional amendment to redress the situation we’re in. Hundreds of communities across the country and state, from Raleigh to Sylva, have called for the amendment. To learn more go to https://movetoamend.org/

In objecting to Citizens United, Justice John Paul Stevens said,  “In the context of election to public office, the distinction between corporate and human speakers is significant. Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it.’’

Stevens was just stating the obvious. Sometimes the obvious hasn’t been stated enough. So we’ll throw one more out there:

Money talks.

But it isn’t speech.

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