WASHINGTON -With the U.S. political system inundated by a flood of unchecked, uncontrollable corporate campaign cash funneled through unaccountable political campaign finance committees, unions blasted the tide of contributions. One, the Communications Workers, backs a constitutional amendment to halt the deluge.
The union statements about the overwhelming influence of money were triggered by the second anniversary of a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court ruling (Citizens United vs. FEC), which said corporations and unions could contribute and spend unlimited amounts of money as long as none went directly to candidates.
The ensuing result has been a surge of corporate spending via so-called "SuperPACs," which can accept unlimited contributions, while hiding the identity of the contributors. The SuperPACs are supposed to be independent of candidate control.
The corporate tide had a huge impact on the 2010 elections and will have an even larger impact this year. Already, for example, right-wing Las Vegas multi-millionaire Sheldon Adelson pumped $5 million into a SuperPAC supporting ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, enabling the outspent Gingrich to clobber supposed GOP front-runner Mitt Romney in South Carolina - after the SuperPAC ads trashed Romney.
All that led the AFL-CIO, the Communications Workers, the Steelworkers, the Service Workers, and other unions to blast the Citizens United ruling. The AFL-CIO is setting up its own SuperPAC to fight back, while CWA joined Common Cause's campaign for a constitutional amendment to strip corporations of their status as "persons" under the law. Doing so would bar them, with legislation, from giving unlimited amounts of money.
Urging its members and allies to join the constitutional crusade, CWA is telling people "to stand up and say you're a person, and that corporations are not."
"The 2010 mid-term election was the most expensive in U.S. history, and the 2012 election will likely shatter that record as more and more corporate money corrupts our democracy," the union added. "Elections should not go to the highest bidder. Corporations are not people and should not have unrestricted influence on our elections."
"We can't afford to celebrate the Citizens United anniversary again. We are working with our allies to stand together and fight back," the union remarked. The union augmented its statement with anti-corporate rallies on Jan. 20 in Phoenix, Jacksonville, Miami, Kansas City, and Sacramento. Other organizations protested in the nation's capital.
The CWA, the Auto Workers, and the Service Employees also united behind a New York state initiative for public campaign financing. The proposal, by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), would build on a successful matching funds program - keyed to small grassroots contributions-now present in New York City elections.
CWA President Larry Cohen, UAW President Bob King, and SEIU President Mary Kay Henry wrote Cuomo that enacting the matching funds program "would provide a beacon of hope that our democracy can effectively respond to the voice of the people."
Whether such a program would stand up to judicial scrutiny is another matter. The U.S. Supreme Court threw out a different Arizona matching funds program, to help candidates counter self-financed big-money hopefuls, several years ago.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and AFT President Randi Weingarten also blasted Citizens United. Weingarten said the ruling is "corroding our democracy."
It "gives powerful corporations a disproportionate amount of influence in our elections. Big corporations are using their record profits to try to silence the voices of Americans who work hard every day teaching our children, healing our sick and serving our communities," she added.
"Instead of working to create jobs and build a better future for our children, big corporate donors hide their identity while they flood the system with hundreds of millions of dollars in an effort to pass an extreme agenda to gut the salary, health care, and pensions of workers. They are siphoning more money out of our classrooms and communities and into the pockets of those who don't need it."
Trumka agreed, but stopped short of endorsing the amendment as a solution:
"Citizens United further tilted the playing field in favor of the one percent and against the 99 percent whose voices are being drowned out by excessive corporate spending and influence," he said. He noted Occupy Wall Street had since then put the question of corporate clout on the national agenda, while garnering support for solutions to that ill.
"The labor movement wholeheartedly supports restoring corporations to their proper role. Corporations are not people. They are man-made creatures of law that exist to generate economic activity and create jobs and income. The notion they should enjoy the same or greater rights and protections than natural persons is absurd, and it is destructive to our democracy," Trumka added.
"To restore the corporation to its rightful place, we need to reform the system. But in doing so, the greatest care must be taken to ensure the Bill of Rights' protections for real people, including protections for democratic organizations and movements, are not inadvertently weakened. The AFL-CIO will support efforts to rein in corporate power that simultaneously protect" rights, he added.
Photo: People's World