Don’t put money where your mouth is

March 22nd, 2012

It’s my favorite time of the year: election season.

With Super Tuesday just behind us and the general election in the not-too-distant future, the election is in full swing. I love elections. They’re the fundamental way we, as citizens, can participate in our political system. Not all of us will make laws, lobby for causes, or institute public policies. However, we can all decide who will do those things – through voting.

Elections give us our power, but certainly aren’t perfect. Often it seems we aren’t even choosing to elect people we think will do the best job; we elect someone from a pool – the lesser of two evils, the person who may not do a fantastic job but who will do better than the other guy or gal.

And elections seem to becoming less perfect. In the now infamous case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which the Supreme Court of the United States decided two years ago, SCOTUS ruled corporations have the same First Amendment right to speech as any person and the government doesn’t have a compelling interest to restrict spending on political-related independent expenditures.

From what I understand, this means that while corporations can’t directly contribute unlimited funds, they can do so to groups not directly affiliated with a candidate – and thus we have exorbitant amounts of money being spent on advertisements by Super PACs.

I am a fierce supporter of the First Amendment, especially one’s freedom of speech. Before the government can prosecute or stop a person from speaking, I think there must be an extreme chance that violence will ensue or grave danger to someone’s life because of the speech. And while I don’t necessarily view corporations as people, I think they should be able to voice an opinion.

However, speech is an open opportunity to voice diverse opinions. Allowing corporations to spend unlimited funds only further illuminates the divide between haves and have-nots. It gives extreme advantage to corporations which can give unlimited funds because they have unlimited funds. Those who should have the loudest voices in elections – the people who will be represented by the elected and whose lives will be affected by the elected – are drowned out and swayed by corporations. A single voice can be louder than a chorus, especially if that voice is backed by several million or billion dollars.

Allowing this influx of money by a few gives those few far greater access to the political system. While average citizens still have the ability to elect leaders, they are bombarded by an obnoxious onslaught of advertisements by these few which must certainly have some influence on how they vote – if not merely by imprinting some negative or positive impression of a candidate. This financial power of the few almost seems to take some power out of the action of voting, as though we are herded towards the conclusion to which the few want us to come.

I don’t foresee SCOTUS reversing this decision, certainly not any time soon. However, my hope is that the growth of social media, to which average citizens have the same access to as the corporation, will restore that power of the vote. Perhaps social media will change elections as it has revolutions and movements. Perhaps social media will make speech more of the equal opportunity it should be – and I think is meant to be.