Everyone has different ideas about which cases are the most monumental, the most important, the most influential in terms of the Supreme Court. When those decisions get handed down you can feel the difference in the responses. There is an intensity from both sides that is unique to those cases alone. For those alive at the time, they felt that with Roe v. Wade, and a little further back it was Brown v. Board of Education, but for today’s court watchers there are few cases that bring up the ire and contempt from both sides of the aisle like Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission. It was that case alone that prompted Robert A.G. Monks to sit down and write this book, Citizens DisUnited: Passive Investors, Drone CEOs, and the Corporate Capture of the American Dream.
For those who are not already aware of the case, the basic breakdown of the decision is corporations were deemed to be “people” in the eyes of the law and that stipulation was combined with the idea of money being equal to free speech, which is obviously protected under the First Amendment. Put those things together and you get a logical (at least to five members of the Supreme Court) decision that corporations can donate unlimited amounts of funds into political campaigns with impunity. The decision also enshrined the creation of the 501(c)3 political action committees (otherwise known as SuperPACs) which can take in unlimited cash without the limitations of campaign finance laws because they fall under “social welfare groups”. Yet, an overwhelming amount of these groups are directly connected to the politician of their choice and often fund merciless attack ads and disinformation campaigns in their name, which is all legal as long as they are not being personally directed by the politician or his campaign office.
Break this down even farther and this means massive bankrolls can be directed to particular candidates that they feel will help them the most, not who will help the country. The Citizen United decision has been the icing on the cake for the enshrinement of the financial elite, the crowning achievement at the end of a long road of financial and economic loopholes only designed to increase the wealth of those at the top of those companies. Some of these laws are inexplicably complex and hard to see how corrupted they are on their face, but Monks points out one of the most popular loopholes which immediately smacks of unfairness:
A single building at 1209 N. Orange St. in Wilmington houses somewhere on the order 217,000 companies, including the legal corporate homes of Coca-Cola, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Google, Intel, Ford, GM, etc.
Just think about that. 217,000 companies are all legally housed in one small building. The reason for this is the incredibly lax tax laws in that state. You could argue that the tax benefits help bring those companies to that state, which in turn boosts the local economy, but no one actually works in that building. It’s a ghost, an illusion perpetrated on the country purely for the benefit of the bottom line.
Following up on this, Monks lays out his core reasoning behind the economic labyrinth we have found ourselves in:
How have we gotten to this point? By many routes, but primarily by making the same mistake as a society that the U.S. Supreme Court made legally when it enshrined corporate personhood in its Citizens United decision: assuming that corporate values and goals and human values and goals are ultimately one and the same. They are not.
While corporations can have a mission statement that reflects the values and goals of the surrounding society and those of its shareholders, in the end the goal of the corporation is be a slave to the bottom line and profits. Social mores and ethical choices do not have equal weight to the amount of zeros on the balance sheet.
Can these walls built around the financial castles be broken down? Maybe, but it will not only take the cries and shouts of the people outside, but also a change of heart from those on the inside as well.