National BUCIPs: Big Money and Politics


WC’s regular readers will recall that a BUCIP, in WC’s world, is a Big, Ugly, Complicated and Intractable Problem. In Alaska, BUCIPs include the state’s oil-dependent economy, subsistence rights and tribal sovereignty.

There are national BUCIPs, too. One of worst is the problem of big money and politics. It’s hardly a new issue, but it was badly exacerbated when the U.S. Supreme Court decided four years ago in Citizens United that corporations had civil rights, including free speech, and that limits on corporate election spending violated those corporations’ newly discovered First Amendment rights. The effect of Citizens United and its progeny was to magnify the impact of big money on U.S. elections.

"Jack and the Giant Joint-Stock", a cartoon in Town Talk (1858) satirizing the 'monster' joint-stock economy that came into being after the Joint Stock Companies Act 1844.Source: Wikicommons

“Jack and the Giant Joint-Stock”, a cartoon in Town Talk (1858) satirizing the ‘monster’ joint-stock economy that came into being after the Joint Stock Companies Act 1844. Source: Wikicommons

Digression: Business corporations were an invention of the Italian city-states of the 14th and 15th Centuries, but really started to get traction with British royally chartered corporations like the East India Company and the South Seas Company. Several colonies in the nascent United States were created as royally chartered corporations. The idea that a business corporation could have political rights would have come as a vast surprise to early scholars of the business form.

It wasn’t until the end of the 19th Century that corporations could be created in the United States without the action of a state legislature or Congress. It was regarded as dangerous to have too many around. Since the Great Depression, the story of the American economy is the story on wealth increasingly concentrated in corporations. After all, that’s what corporations are: a pooled investment of wealth in a single entity.

Apple, Inc., a corporation for which WC has a soft spot and in which WC might have some of his paltry net worth, has a total capitalization at this date of about $642.5 billion. That’s $2,033 for each man, woman and child in the country. It’s $874,149 for each man, woman and child in Alaska. An unfathomable, unimaginable amount of money. And Apple is a tiny, miniscule part of the corporate economy.

Moveon.org has it right:

Think about whatever issue is most important to you. Wall Street reform? Global warming? Student debt? Health care for all?

On every single one of those issues, there are big corporations standing in the way of change.

And the reason that Congress listens to them—and not voters—is because of money.

WC and Moveon.org aren’t the only ones that feel this way. The last U.S. Senate adopted a constitutional amendment that would have overturn Citizens United. The bill died in the U.S. House. More than 600 cities and 16 states have gone on record in favor of amending the Constitution.

And most amazingly of all, 80% of Americans oppose Citizens United—even including 72 percent of Republicans!2

But Congressmen and Congresswomen want to be re-elected. That takes money. And those candidates are increasingly dependent on multi-national corporations’ newly invented free speech dollars to get re-elected. That means Senator and Representatives are very strongly disinclined to turn off the money faucet.

The legislative effects of this sick dependence are obvious. As just one example, the Keystone XL Pipeline is trumpeted as a “jobs bill.” Piffle. It creates 20,000 jobs for two years, while being built. The pipe isn’t made in America. There’s no requirement that Americans get those jobs. After construction, the pipeline will employ 90-100 people. It isn’t well-designed. It doesn’t give America “energy independence” – we’re talking Alberta tar sands bitumen. It isn’t even an oil pipeline – it’s a much more dangerous bitumen pipeline. It would endanger aquifers and the country’s grain belt. And it is an environmental nightmare. Congress wouldn’t even be considering it if they didn’t need the corporate campaign donations that flow form the projects owners.

It is going to be very, very hard to switch of the political pig trough. The alternatives are a constitutional amendment, as Moveon.org proposes, or the U.S. Supreme Court reversing itself. Neither is very likely.

All of which makes corporations and their campaign contributions a BUCIP.

 

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