Photo via NY Times
In a truly momentous ruling today, the Supreme Court has determined the government cannot ban corporations from spending their funds to influence candidate elections. The decision overturns a 63 year-old law enacted to curb the influence of big business on elections--now corporations are essentially free to spend however much they wish in marketing campaigns to promote or decry a candidate. So--anyone have any guesses what this means for our prospects of energy reform? Now that Exxon-Mobil, the world's largest corporation, can spend as much money as it'd like to support candidates friendly to its cause?You guessed it--it means trouble. It's no mystery that the energy reform already faced tough opposition from the better-funded status quo fossil fuel industries of oil and coal. Remember, last summer Exxon spent more money on lobbying than the entire clean energy industry combined. It spent a total of $46 million on lobbying alone--where there weren't any restrictions on spending in place--in 2008. And the clean energy and jobs bill just barely passed the House.
Now, it's free to support whichever candidate speaks up in favor of oil--with an almost limitless supply of funding. Furthermore, it gives the US Chamber of Commerce--which has worked to prevent energy reform--even more sway, as the National Journal explains.
Various organizations and public figures have already issued condemnations of the ruling, including the League of Conservation Voters and President Obama. In his statement, Obama calls the ruling a major victory for big oil--and he's not exaggerating.
Supreme Court Ruling and Energy Reform
In the short term, this may have minimal effects on the energy reform and clean jobs bill that's set to be debated in the Senate this March--if only because midterm elections won't take place until months later. It could, in fact, provide Democrats with an incentive to get on the ball, and pass the legislation before election season, when coal and oil industries can pick sympathetic candidates to back.
In the long run, however, this could be disastrous. The dissenting opinion has lamented that the decision will corrupt democracy, and I would tend to agree. It provides a blatant advantage to already-powerful special interests and corporations, as well as further incentive for politicians to cozy up to them. The money that, say, the wind power industry can donate to a candidates campaign wouldn't even qualify as a drop in the bucket for an average oil company.
Human Rights for--Corporations?
The most curious thing about the whole debacle to me, is how those in favor of the decision are celebrating it as a victory of free speech. It seems to accentuate this strange notion that we've engendered in America that corporations should have the same rights as individual citizens--a notion that's been embedded in our culture for decades, as this clip from the documentary the Corporation notes:
This decision clearly seems like a mistake to me--and not simply because it will likely hinder clean energy reform, which I happen to believe is essential to our nation's future prosperity. No, freely giving corporations even more influence over the political process seems like a regression--and no American wants giant, multinational companies using their resources to tell them what to think. Which is exactly why this decision does anything but support free speech.
More on the Supreme Court
How Green is Obama Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor?
Supreme Court Delivers Landmark Ruling On Greenhouse Gases
Supreme Court Shock: Ruling Says Lethal Mining Waste Can Be Dumped in Lakes