It started when the United States Supreme Court determined that corporations were people and, as such, had similar rights and protections as us oxygen-breathing types. And now, in another recent decision, the court has decided that people (individual human beings or corporations) have the right to donate to an unlimited number of political candidates — therefore removing the aggregate cap on total donation amounts — as such gifts should be protected as an exercising of free speech, as defined in the constitution.
So much for representative democracy.
It’s my understanding that the founders of our nation and the framers of our constitution held the notion of representative democracy fairly sacred. They wanted to ensure that each person (at the time, only understood to be humanoid mammalian organisms) should have an equal say in what our government should look like. But with these two decisions, the Court not only has fairly gutted all elements of McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform; they also have undermined the very notion that we all have equal standing under the constitution.
Consider this: at least at the time of this publication, corporations lack the capacity for autonomous self-governance. They require us humans to make them do what we will have them do. Corporations have no will, no personal agenda, or motives. They are simply a soulless mechanism we use to achieve a greater end than we can individually.
So those people who control the corporations not only have the influence of their own individual voices; they also have control of the personhood that is their corporation. And although the corporation-persons as yet don’t have the right to vote, they certainly have more power than most individuals to affect public policy and elections.
Now we can spend our money as a constitutionally protected act of free speech. It caused me to pause and wonder how long it will be before the Court will enjoy a taste of its own medicine, when inevitably confronted by some case or another that argues the government no longer has the authority to prohibit us from buying all manner of contraband — drugs, weapons, even people — because in doing so, they are violating our First Amendment rights.
With respect to politics, the prospect of anyone being able to privately contribute to a campaign or lobbying effort undermines the notion of equal representation to a point, even with McCain Feingold intact. But at least campaign finance reform kept such conflation of free-market capitalism and democratic liberty on a leash. But now that leash is in ribbons, and the beast of unfettered economic privilege is loose in the halls of congress and the white house.
Of course, the problem isn’t simply individual contributions or corporate personhood. The opaque systems within which Political Action Committees (PACs) are created and run with relative anonymity has added a layer of obfuscation beneath which any private citizen or candidate for public office may pursue personal agendas with impunity.
As Christians, I believe this is more than an economic or political issue; it is, at its heart, a matter of justice. While Jesus was intent on challenging the forces of imperialism throughout his own ministry, we seem all too hesitant to do likewise when the mechanisms of power among us run roughshod over our sovereignty as individuals. We claim that the meek are blessed, but God forbid we’d extend such gospel truths to the institutions that hold so much sway over our daily lives.
Christian Piatt is a Sojourners Featured Writer and an author, editor, speaker, musician, and spoken word artist. He is director of church growth and development at First Christian Church in Portland, Ore. Christian is the creator and editor of Banned Questions About The Bibleand Banned Questions About Jesus. His new memoir on faith, family and parenting is called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.