“Fairness” as an American value is suffering from a terminal illness.
The dictionary defines “fair” as being marked by impartiality and honesty; free from self-interest, prejudice or favoritism.
Americans allowed Ronald Reagan to do away with the fairness doctrine in broadcasting in 1985. Now, corporate America is challenging laws that treat candidates for public office fairly, and the Supreme Court of the United States, those nine judges everyone expects to be fair above all else, is poised to make it absolutely legal for big money interests to buy public offices in the United States.
Citizens United gave corporations the same right of free speech natural people enjoy. This might be acceptable if corporations had the same kind of financial resources as natural people, and if they were held to the same kinds of rules as natural people, but that is not so. Corporations often have vast financial resources, and those resources shield them from the kinds of rules that make natural people cut their grass and refrain from putting toxic waste dumps in their back yards.
Now, thanks to Citizens United, corporations are entitled to spend as much money on getting candidates elected as they please. This fact forces candidates into a kind of keeping-up-with-the-Joneses mindset. In order to be competitive, candidates must raise as much money as their opponents do. Candidates’ taking large sums of money from anyone is fraught with ethical peril.
Money buys access and money buys influence. If John Q. Publicservant wants to get elected, he must be able to run as many ads as his opponents. If his opponents have a trillion dollars, so must he.
After 10 per cent of Arizona’s state senate was implicated in a bribery scandal, the state passed a law intended to battle corruption. The law allows candidates for state office to use state money for their campaigns if they forgo private funding. If privately-funded candidates in the race outspend the publicly-financed candidates by a certain amount, the public-money candidates get more money, allowing them to compete.
This arrangement makes it feasible for a candidate to use the public campaign fund. Otherwise, no one would take public funds, since private campaign donations are basically unlimited. The law prevents elections being bought by the best fund-raiser. The best fundraiser is always the guy who makes the best promises to potential donors. All the very best promises can be left unspoken until it’s time to vote on that rule or regulation that requires a big donor to (1) treat employees or customers fairly; (2) clean up after itself; (3) take care of the people it injures; or (4) pay for the infrastructure it uses to make its money.
The Supreme Court heard arguments today about this law. Five of the justices don’t like it. These five justices will rule against the law if it “levels the playing field” for candidates. In other words, if the law has the effect of making elections fair, Justices Alito, Thomas, Roberts, Scalia and Kennedy want it overturned.
There are indications that Justices Thomas and Scalia are partially-owned subsidiaries of Koch Industries—um—good buddies with the people who benefitted from the Citizens United ruling (Common Cause).
Recent trends in policy have been about protecting the so-called “rights” of corporations and businesses. What these policies have done, in effect, was deprive private citizens of their rights. The corporation has the right to spend unlimited sums of money to influence a political campaign to suit its aims. The private citizen is thereby deprived of the right to hear the complete story from the candidates themselves.
Regarding free speech, this one thing is true. Money is a very big amplifier. If one candidate’s speech drowns out everyone else’s, he or she deprives others of their right, since the right to be heard is inherent in free speech. If that happens in politics, the people will be the biggest losers.