By now, most of us have seen the notorious image of President Trump sitting proudly in the Oval Office in front of his desk that’s full of…groceries? To be specific, Goya products. But corporate involvement in politics goes far, far beyond the president of the United States endorsing beans at the White House. Corporations have the power to influence our elections and then continue on to alter the policies that elected officials enact. For example, Goya Foods poured 12.4 thousand dollars into the Republican party during the 2016 election. And that’s considered small. Overall, there were about 6.8 BILLION dollars at play in that election. Corporate money is altering politics through campaign finance and lobbying, and although it can be good-intentioned, it reflects corporate interests rather than the interests of the American people.
Today, campaign donations are considered another form of free speech, because “In Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruled that independent political expenditures by corporations and unions are protected under the First Amendment and not subject to restriction by the government.” Corporations are able to pour funds into campaigns, taking the election out of the hands of the American people. In his dissent for the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, Justice Stevens wrote that “The Court’s blinkered and aphoristic approach to the First Amendment will undoubtedly cripple the ability of ordinary citizens, Congress, and the States to adopt even limited measures to protect against corporate domination of the electoral process.” This ruling opened the door for outsized campaign donations, and these donations go to produce political ads and advance a contender’s campaign. More money equals more resources, so when corporations pick and choose candidates to fund, they help decide the outcome of the election.
Corporate control goes far beyond election donations. Once their chosen officials are in office, corporations influence the actual policy that elected representatives are enacting. Corporations have this influence because “companies’ resources and sophistication drowns out the ability of congressional staffers to develop knowledge independently about an industry or issue. ‘There’s more expertise in the lobbying industry than among congressional staffers,’” says a Stanford Business article. “And they’re just flooding the zone.” That imbalance “distorts the information and expertise in the political system.” Of the 100 top-spending lobbying organizations, 95 represent corporations, while companies outspend labor unions and public-interest entities 34-to-1. For example, “A billionaire whose steel-making company donated $1.75 million to secure his place urged the president to tighten restrictions on steel imports and to let truck drivers work longer hours….Nearly 5,000 Americans died in accidents involving large trucks in 2018, and the annual death toll from such accidents is up by 17 percent since 2008….Studies show that driver fatigue is a frequent factor in fatal crashes. But the families of the victims haven’t paid enough to dine with the president.” Corporate lobbying removes the peoples’ interests from legislation and gives large companies a direct line to lawmakers.
Although corporations have a lot of power in politics, some argue that the corporations will use their power for good. One Stanford Social Innovation Review article claims that “companies are steering government dollars to social problems, changing laws, and encouraging new approaches to government services.” It’s true that some corporations will use their power and political influence for good, and this ‘for-good’ lobbying can have a great impact. However, we can’t place our trust and democracy in the hands of corporations. If we rely on a corporation’s ‘social responsibility’ to influence our elected officials’ decisions, then our elected officials are no longer public servants- they’re corporate puppets. The issue isn’t the few good corporations, but the lopsided system of power that gives wealthy businesses the ability to control the law. It’s time to give democracy back to the people.
As corporate money in politics has risen, high-profile presidential candidates like Warren and Sanders are pushing to remove corporate money from politics. Bernie Sanders lays out a plan that would remove corporate money by banning corporate contributions to the DNC, capping individual donations at $500, abolishing and replacing the FEC, and a constitutional amendment that would overturn the Citizens United v. FEC decision. This amendment would clarify that corporations are not guaranteed the same rights as people, and that money is not a form of free speech. These are steps forward in removing corporate influence from politics. Although we have a long way to go to zero corporate interference in politics, we are slowly making progress.