Many of us fear the possibility of the United States running on a plutocratic system, in which the wealthy control and own the government because of their ability to buy off elected officials. The Citizens United Supreme Court case inflamed this fear by ruling the restriction of corporation and labor union contributions and expenditures for candidates as a violation of freedom of speech. I would like to address this wrongfully determined case with basic American ideals.
Justice Holmes gave rise to the term “marketplace of ideas,” which suggests that all speech is equalized naturally because consumer demand will consider what is important enough to publish or broadcast. Those who agree with the Citizens United decision would interpret this in their favor, by claiming that the government should not impose any restriction on campaign finances because – as Justice Holmes implied – the market will fix itself. They will say that both Democrats and Republicans have wealthy supporters, and that this will insure that the market remains balanced and no party subsists as favored over the other. However, this is not a partisan freedom of speech issue, but rather a class-based, economically disparate freedom of speech issue. I argue that the ruling limits political participation from less wealthy candidates because of the monopolization of this market.
Logically, the candidate with the most donations will have the more well-equipped machine to reach out to voters. There is a reason why candidates advertise, phone bank, canvass, and throw meet and greet parties: because it works. This system is set up so that the candidate with the most voter outreach develops as the candidate with the highest chance of winning. The exploitation of this market is a violation to the freedom of speech of the candidate with overwhelmingly less funds than the other. Corporation’s monetary capabilities of participating in the election marketplace of ideas should not influence how often they contribute to the market in relation to their not-so-privileged opponents.
I also believe that by corporations and labor unions having the right to use their treasure box for unlimited expenditures on behalf of their preferred candidate, they silence the less wealthy candidate who lacks a deep pocket because voters will only see their side over and over again. Not to mention, corporations only donate mass sums of money when they feel their interest will be pursued in policy, making them the newly elected official’s top priority constituents. This causes political agendas to become altered when there lies an influence in money, by causing democratic discussion to focus on issues of special interest to these political contributors and not focus on the common good of all citizens. This can be detrimental because often what the corporation asks for is only beneficial to them while the common people bear the cost. For example, Big Pharma, the NRA, and oil and gas companies, donate millions of dollars to candidates that would support their cause even if the causes are arguably detrimental to society. This is what a plutocracy looks like and both decisions moved our system closer to it. This practice silences the voice of ordinary people and shifts it to corporations. Plutocracies do not value the freedom of speech of the people, but rather the freedom of speech of the wealthy who help fund the system.