Corporations shouldn’t influence politics

Aaron Loudenslager

Corporate America and its owned subsidiary, which happens to be called the Republican Party, defeated its number one enemy in American politics in the last election. Russ Feingold, a three-term U.S. Senator from Wisconsin who was the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act, lost his re-election bid due to his passionate positions regarding the role of corporations, not only in elections, but also in society in general. Corporations removed one of their fiercest critics by funneling money to the Ron Johnson campaign and by outspending Feingold’s campaign at a rate of 3:1. Ironically, Ron Johnson is a corporate man himself and owns a plastic company in Wisconsin called PACUR.

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission that corporations cannot be discriminated against because of their “corporate identity” and therefore can spend unlimited amounts of money in elections, even though the holding of this case goes against over 100 years of established case law, including the Supreme Court case Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

The American people know that corporations don’t care about citizens or consumers when corporations actively engage in the political process. A 2000 BusinessWeek poll showed that nearly 75 percent of those polled think that corporations have too much control over their lives and a 2010 ABC News/Washington Post poll showed that 80 percent of those polled were opposed to the Citizens United court ruling.

Why do citizens not trust Corporate America? Is it the fact that between 1998 and 2005 only one-third of corporations paid any federal income tax? Is it the fact that former corporate executives find themselves in federal agencies regulating the industries they once worked for, with examples such as former Goldman Sachs CEO, Henry Paulson?

Corporate influence can be seen in both the Democratic and Republican Parties with examples such as Dick Cheney, John Boehner, Max Baucus and Chris Dodd. The Democratic Party is home to the last of the true progressives such as Feingold and Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), but overall it is still captured by corporate interests, just not to the extreme extent that the Republican Party currently is.

Feingold is not the first U.S. senator from Wisconsin to lose in the fashion that he did. Senator Gaylord Nelson, one of the principal founders of Earth Day, lost his senate seat to a Republican in 1980. Both Feingold and Nelson stood up for their ideals. It is for this exact reason that both lost their seats.

Feingold fought for the ordinary American citizen, instead of standing with corporations like Republican Senator Mitch McConnell who said that the Citizens Untied decision, was “an important step in the direction of restoring the First Amendment rights of these groups by ruling that the Constitution protects their right to express themselves about political candidates and issues up until Election Day.”

It’s obvious that the Republican Party is more concerned with the rights and profits of corporations than with fighting for the American people like Feingold did every day. Feingold fought for single-payer health insurance, publicly funded elections, the regulation and taxation of financial derivatives, and everything that is the progressive Wisconsin tradition started by Robert LaFollette.

There is only one question to ask the Republican Party as they plan their legislative agenda for when they officially control the House of Representatives in the wake of Feingold’s loss. Will the Republican Party decide to stand up for the rights of “real” people who live, breath, eat and can experience life like Feingold did, or will they stand up for the rights of “artificial” people who care only about more profits, and only exist on paper, which are called corporations?