Politics Blog 2: Chicken is Money. Money is Speech.

I’d rather not rehash the whole Chik-Fil-A thing, but I want to cover why it was important. In 2010, in the case of Citizens United  v Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations and unions. In other words, corporations and unions can give unlimited money to political campaigns because a) corporations and unions are people, whose freedom of speech is protected by the Constitution and b) money is speech.

You’re thinking, “Who cares? I don’t own a corporation, belong to a union or have a ton of money. So why does this matter, and what could this possibly have to do with Chik-Fil-A?”

Here’s why it matters. You have a limited amount of income that you’re willing to donate to a political campaign. Most of the people reading this will either not contribute to the Presidential campaign this year or will contribute less than $50. If you do give to a campaign, it will be based on your own personal political leanings. However you will give every penny you make to corporations in exchange for goods and services without regard to their political leanings. Corporations have way more money and way more incentive to give to political campaigns. Elected officials create and enforce legislation that has a direct impact on their earning potential, so they are much more likely to donate based on their business interests rather than the interests of the country.

Warning: This is where I’m going to start sharing my opinions. If you’re offended by the opinions of others, this is your chance to just stop reading.

So why was the Chik-Fil-a hubbub important? Because it exposed the fact that they donate a copious amount of money to political action committees that lobby for policies that directly contradict my personal philosophy. Specifically, they spend money to prevent gay couples from being allowed to get married, or to share any of the legal benefits of being married. So I had to make the decision to no longer spend money there, because I didn’t want my money to contribute to a cause I don’t believe in.

We have one vote, but we have lots of dollars. Now because of Citizens United we must spend those dollars with the same caution with which we cast our vote. This is difficult for me, because I like to spend willie-nillie on things I want without wondering if my purchase is going to keep gay couples from getting married. I wouldn’t buy tuna from a company that snares dolphins with their nets or buy shoes from a company that uses child labor in a foreign country. It’s the same principle. The money we spend for the things we want has an immediate and direct impact on our lives and our world. And it means even more since the Citizens United ruling.

This political cycle or the next will likely bring this to a head. We’ll find that there’s a limit to the effectiveness of money. At a certain point, campaigns will have more than they can spend. They’ll buy all the TV time they can, and they won’t sway any more voters by spending more money. The effect of monetary volume has a limit. The bigger risk is of course that corporations will expect favors in exchange for their contributions.

We’ve been here before From around 1830, with the election of Andrew Jackson to around 1881 with the death of James Garfield, this was called “The Spoils System”. Huge campaign donors were given government jobs in exchange for their donations. We ended up with a government full of people looking out for their specific interests who were also not especially qualified to do the jobs they were given. That included not just political appointees but elected officials as well. Back then it was political bosses pulling the levers rather than corporations, but the effect is the same. Bosses were rich guys who usually owned the newspapers (and later the radio stations) in their regions. Their realm of political control was called a political machine. Selling political appointments was made illegal at the end of the Gilded Age. Political Bosses continued to weild power through the Great Depression. But eventually people were exposed to opinions that came from outside their bosses area of control. A few couragous politicians, who were put in place by the machines revolted and the system was changed.

Last time around the whole mess lasted for around a century, but so did newspapers. Technology changed much slower back then, so it took longer for the things influencing people to change. Now we can be exposed to new and different ideas because of our ever changing technology. We are closer to a one-world-experience than most Americans would admit. When people finally get sick enough of the current system, they’ll look beyond their pre-programmed news services and start to demand a change. Once the cry for change is loud enough, a few courageaous politicians will revolt against the system that put them in place and we’ll once again experience one of the bloodless revolutions that make America great.

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