The Island of Doubt

By ruling that corporations are entitled to exercise unrestricted political speech, the U.S. Supreme Court has just made it much more difficult for Americans to make the transition from a fossil-fuel-based economy to a clean-energy economy.

Most democracies, including, until this morning, the U.S., recognize the danger of giving corporations free rein to influence the outcome of elections and so limit or ban political spending by corporations. But starting now, the $605 billion in profits available to the Fortune 100 can now be spent on advertising during American elections. This means those who are making the most money from the existing system are in a much greater position to help determine the future than those who are marginal players.

Fossil-fuel producers are among the richest corporations on the planet and in the U.S. They will now be able to outspend upstart solar, geothermal, wind-power, energy-efficiency and conservation-oriented businesses by several orders of magnitude. If you think it’s tough to break into the energy market today, it just got a whole lot harder.

Other winners from today’s ruling:

  • Carbon capture and sequestration researchers, as bringing down CCS costs (in both energy and money) will now almost certainly be needed in a world that is that even less likely to stop burning coal in time to prevent catastrophic climate change than it was yesterday.
  • The advertising industry.


  1. #1 Hilary
    January 21, 2010

    We are under attack!

  2. #2 Alex
    January 21, 2010

    Is there any way to force them to reverse this decision or to invalidate it?

  3. #3 Kathy Orlinsky
    January 21, 2010

    I feel sickened by this result. I really can’t believe it.

  4. #4 dhogaza
    January 21, 2010

    Alex, one of the conservative justices needs to step down or kick the bucket while Obama (or some democrat) is president.

    They’ll overturn any attempt to limit spending as long as they have a majority. Remember, this case was originally a narrow case. It was broadened by the conservative justices themselves into a ruling on campaign spending in general.

    You know all this stuff we hear about “liberal activist judges”? What can be more activist than taking a case heard in the lower courts on very narrow grounds and then blow it up into a ruling that forbids any limitation on campaign spending whatsoever?

    OK, we’re used to hypocritical conservatives but sheesh, this really takes the cake.

    Dred Scott was once ruled a non-person by the Supreme Court, and now we have corporations with the full rights of humans once denied to blacks.

    Some country.

  5. #5 Alan
    January 22, 2010

    Come on now, free speech is not the problem. The entire planet knows that the US government is the most corrupt political body in the western world. This decision merely formalises the existing corporate state.

  6. #6 Pierre Caron
    January 22, 2010

    So, if corporations have all the rights of human beings, that means they can vote. They cannot. So by extension, they cannot spend all their money to influence voters. Simple and logical.

    So….what were those judges thinking??!?!

    Newt Gingerich seems very happy about this ruling. Figures.

  7. #7 Den!s
    January 22, 2010

    as far as who else were winners in this, you forgot LAWYERS

  8. #8 dhogaza
    January 22, 2010

    This decision merely formalises the existing corporate state.

    Well, yes, that’s why reasonable people are so pissed off by it.

  9. #9 Deech56
    January 22, 2010

    One suggestion I’ve heard is having politicians were gear with their sponsorship/corporate logos like NASCAR drivers.

    Great line about Dred Scott, dhogaza.

  10. #10 dhogaza
    January 22, 2010

    Great line about Dred Scott, dhogaza.

    Thanks! Though it’s been pointed out elsewhere that, like Dred Scott, corporations aren’t allowed to vote – yet. I’m sure that injustice will be changed at some point in the future, something like “one vote per customer”.

  11. #11 freelunch
    January 22, 2010

    This case is a great example of people being confused by a sometimes useful analogy.

  12. #12 Brian Brademeyer
    January 22, 2010

    The infamous Dred Scott decision declared that (some) people were property; the infamous Citizens United decision declares that (some) properties are people.

  13. #13 Russ Finley
    January 22, 2010

    Good one, Deech56

  14. #14 dhogaza
    January 23, 2010

    The infamous Dred Scott decision declared that (some) people were property

    Actually, it’s right there in the Constitution, albeit a bit subtle. Because when counted for the purpose of allocating seats in the House, slaves were counted as … 1/3? (I’d have to look, but for the principle the fraction is irrelevant) … of a freeman.

    Done to give southern slave-owning states representation in the House somewhat proportional to population, without them having to agree that one slave was equal to one white in the accounting …

    Dred Scott had more to do with upholding the property principle even if a slave moved to a free state, etc etc.

  15. #15 Andrew Dodds
    January 25, 2010

    dhogaza –

    Actually, it’s simpler than the corporations getting the vote. The tactic has generally been to get all government services privatised, or tendered out to contract. That way they get to run everything (at a profit), without appearing to have political power. And when things go wrong, the interchangeable politicians get the blame.

  16. #16 donK
    January 25, 2010

    Don’t be ignorant. Read the Opinion of the Court.

    It’s only 187 pages or so.

    Large corporations already had a free speech loophole through PACs and other corporations have never had restrictions at all (press/media). Corporations with media arms could circumvent the law while those without were forced to use other means if they were large enough to afford them. Corporations could spend money supporting issues, saying and spending anything they want, but not when it came to supporting or opposing an individual candidate. The law that was struck down existed as a de facto censor, requiring speech to be be submitted for approval to the FEC or face costly litigation. Most corporations, those not large enough to afford a PAC or a media arm, were prevented from engaging in the political process.

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