Paul Krugman on This Week this morning made a good point about the issue raised concerning the money pouring into Republican campaigns from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, some of which is from foreign countries: It doesn’t really matter whether it comes from multinational corporations based elsewhere or in the U.S., but rather just that it comes from multinational corporations. It is not, in my opinion, that multinational corporations have interests that are entirely inconsistent with the interests of ordinary Americans; it is that multinational corporations have interests that are not entirely consistent with the interests of ordinary Americans. That is the nature of the non-zero-sum world in which we live. And while pluralism is based on the equitable competition of imperfectly aligned interests, in a political process in which money often plays a definitive role, the vastly disproportionate aggregate wealth available to multinational corporations in their attempt to influence elections means that their interests are better represented and better advanced than other competing interests.
I would add that the problem also isn’t what people, I think mistakenly, interpret to be the significance of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizen United: That corporations have been defined as people. First, I don’t think that’s what Citizen United means; my reading of the opinion is that the First Amendment says that speech is protected, not any particular kind of speech or source of speech (in other words, it’s not that corporations are people, but rather that it doesn’t matter whether their people or not). Second, all speech is made by people. Corporate speech is speech made by people, through the agency of a corporation. Corporations cannot act other than as vehicles for the will of people. If a corporation speaks, people are speaking through it.
That may sound like a defense of Citizen United, but it’s not. It’s a suggestion that we focus on the real issue, rather than get distracted by a chimera whose resolution would not resolve the actual problem (i.e., if we managed to pass a law defining Corporations as not being people, it would neither change the impact of Citizen United, nor reduce the dysfunctional role that the virtually unlimited influence of money plays in our democracy). The real issue is how to allow less well financed voices to be heard above the megaphones that those with the most money can buy. We need to find ways to refine our vast public forum, such that a well-reasoned debate can take place, rather than a mere competition of marketing strategies and the degree to which they are financed.