A bad idea

Word from Winkler

A bad idea

By Jim Winkler, General Secretary, General Board of Church & Society

I confess that I have never thought of a corporation as a human being. It has never made any sense to me to consider the notion that God created General Motors or Wal-Mart or Goldman Sachs or Smith & Wesson in God’s image. Yet, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled 5-4 last month that corporations are akin to individual people. The court ruled corporations should therefore have the right to spend as much money as they want to influence elections.

From past experience we know this is a bad idea. In the late 19th century, corporations virtually owned the U.S. Congress. It was no secret. They paid for and arranged the election of many members of Congress and, in return, they expected those representatives and senators to vote as they were directed.

From past experience we know this is a bad idea.

This permitted corporations to create monopolies and oligopolies. The sugar trust, the copper trust, the steel trust and other collusive arrangements existed. Regulations were evaded. Pollution and poisons killed countless numbers of people.

The power of money remains far too influential on Capitol Hill to this day. It is not difficult at all to trace corporate contributions to members of Congress to their voting records. Follow the money trail and you will see that our elected officials are all too beholden to the power of money.

The prophet Amos spoke against those merchants who “sell the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals.” Psalm 15 defines upright persons as those who “…stand by their oath even to their hurt … and do not take a bribe against the innocent.”

If politicians are to focus on the well-being of the people and the nation, they must be able to depend on public financing that would take government away from special interests and return it to the people.

Money, you see, equals free speech.

The Supreme Court has already ruled that individuals can spend as much as they want on their own political campaigns. Money, you see, equals free speech.

That reminds me of the old story from West Virginia when the billionaire John D. Rockefeller IV ran for the U.S. Senate against Gov. Arch Moore. A popular bumper sticker read, “Make him spend it all, Arch.”

The rich and powerful always concoct reasons why they should have prerogatives not available to others. Kings argue they have a divine right to do what they want. The wealthy would have us believe that through their beneficence riches will “trickle down” eventually to the poor.

The Supreme Court decision defies common sense.

The Supreme Court decision defies common sense. In his dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens pointed out that corporations are not people. Corporations should not be permitted to spend whatever money they want to influence elections. Neither should individuals or interest groups. We need elections to be played on an level field.

The United Methodist Church has long supported campaign finance reform. Our highest policy-making body, the General Conference has been calling for campaign finance reform since 1996. It approved a resolution in 2008 that specifically calls for strengthening campaign finance reform laws. The resolution, “Pathways to Economic Justice,” calls for laws “that prevent corporations and special interest groups from dominating elections and the legislative process.”

Our denomination’s efforts to fight the power of predatory gambling, alcohol and tobacco interests have long been thwarted by the fantastic sums of money those enterprises pour into the campaign coffers of politicians.

Fortunately, although they are treated as individuals, corporations don’t vote. We do. Politicians know that. We have to encourage them to do the right thing. Right now, that means contacting them in support of the “Fair Elections Now Act” (S. 752 and H.R. 1826). The Supreme Court has made an egregious error in its ruling. It is crucial to encourage your members of Congress to rectify that error through strengthening laws that will level the playing field for all of us.


Editor’s note: More than 200 faith leaders representing diverse religions sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., this week urging passage of the Fair Elections Now Act.” You can read about their effort in this issue of Faith in Action, at “Pass Fair Elections Now Act”. Date: 2/5/2010

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