Friday, January 29, 2010

The corruption of US democracy

Last week, in a disastrous decision for American democracy, the US Supreme Court struck down third-party spending limits in federal elections. Writing in the Independent, Johann Hari points out exactly what that means:

So if you anger the investment bankers by supporting legislation to break up the too-big-to-fail banks, you will smack into a wall of 24/7 ads exposing your every flaw. If you displease oil companies by supporting legislation to deal with global warming, you will now be hit by a tsunami of advertising saying you are opposed to jobs and the American Way. If you rile the defence contractors by opposing the gargantuan war budget, you will face a smear-campaign calling you Soft on Terror.

Representative Alan Grayson says: "It basically institutionalises and legalises bribery on the largest scale imaginable. Corporations will now be able to reward the politicians that play ball with them – and beat to death the politicians that don't... You won't even hear any more about the Senator from Kansas. It'll be the Senator from General Electric or the Senator from Microsoft."

This is exactly the problem we saw in 2005 with the Exclusive Brethren, and exactly the problem we were trying to prevent here with the Electoral Finance Act. Thanks to this decision, we are likely to get thoroughly educated in why such restrictions are necessary. In order to be meaningful, democracy requires a level playing field, where all voices can be heard. When the wealthy can just buy the outcome by drowning out (or threatening to drown out) all other voices, then the result ceases to be democratic.

(Meanwhile, its no wonder people don't bother voting in the US. Why would they? It doesn't matter who they vote for - the corporations always win. under those circumstances, denying legitimacy begins to look like a valid tactic...)