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  • virginia 7:26 pm on January 29, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: lobbying   

    Where Money is Speech, and Corporations are People 

    While the pundits are busy dissecting every line and nuance from Wednesday’s State of the Union Address, I’d like to focus on one small but meaningful moment – the Obama-Alito face-off.  It is rare for a State of Union Address to rebuke a Supreme Court decision.  Rarer still for a Justice in the audience to ever break decorum.  Both occurred on Wednesday.

    But in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling that corporations can spend as much as they want on political campaigns, Obama’s criticism that the ruling “will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations” was warranted.

    More than a century ago, at the time when the modern corporation was created, President Teddy Roosevelt helped to create laws that prohibit or limit corporate money in elections.  Forty years later, Congress extended the same ban to unions. And in the decades since then the Supreme Court has viewed these restrictions as legitimate protections to the public interest.

    Then, in a seismic 5-4 ruling last week, the conservative side of the Court blew back.  In the Court’s view, those restrictions amounted to censorship on the basis that money is the same as speech, and corporations are people, or “associations of citizens.”  Never mind that they are legally established with the role of driving profits, and are legally accountable only to shareholders.

    So far, most corporations have been quiet about the decisions, but lobbyists and their lawyers can hardly contain their glee.  And why should they, with a gift of this magnitude.  As Lawrence M. Noble, a former general counsel of the Federal Election Commission describes it, a lobbyist can now go to a lawmaker and say “We have got a million we can spend advertising for you or against you – whichever one you want.”

    Now, I am certainly not anti-business.  Just the opposite.  But I can’t help believing that this ruling is extremely damaging to the democratic process as well as to the public interest.  It is also damaging to the US companies who are showing leadership in the area of sustainability. By definition, corporate leaders in sustainability are progressing beyond the status quo in the areas of climate change, greener energy, responsible sourcing, efficient resource use, labor practices, etc.  Progressive policy that creates stronger incentives for more sustainable practices not only accelerates their ability to make changes, it also brings the rest of the industry along.

    But with this ruling, lobbyists have new weapons and vast amounts of money to help ensure that the status quo (or worse) is protected.

    So far, legal experts aren’t seeing any easy ways for Congress to undo this ruling.  So what does this mean for the corporate responsibility agenda? We’ll be following the fall-out, as well as any developing counter moves beyond the Presidential rebuke.

    In the meantime, already there’s a cheeky grassroots movement (Move to Amend) to amend the constitution to state:

    We, the People of the United States of America, reject the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United, and move to amend our Constitution to:

    Firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.”

    • Lars Erik Hillbom 3:17 pm on February 1, 2010 Permalink

      This news did not reach Scandinavia and I can’t help but think that this is a shot in the foot forthe whole climate debate in the US. One question from the ill-informed—what did Obama say in his address that irked Alito and how did the Supreme Judge react?

    • virginia 11:19 am on February 2, 2010 Permalink

      In the State of the Union Address last week, Obama openly criticized the Supreme Court by saying that their ruling in the Citizens United overturned a “century of precedent” and opened the “floodgates” for money from corporations and unions to pour into politics. In response, Justice Alito, frowned and mouthed “not true.” While this is a far cry from the “you lie” moment last year, it is highly unusual for a President to criticize a Supreme Court ruling in this forum. And very rare for Justices to show any kind of response to the Presidential speech.

      Click here to read Alito’s lips. http://www.cnn.com/2010/POLITICS/01/28/alito.obama.sotu/index.html

  • andrea 8:18 pm on November 12, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: business associations, , lobbying   

    Harry Potter and the Chamber of Commerce 

    Say ‘chamber’ to anyone who knows Harry Potter and they will answer ‘secrets’. Say chamber of commerce and they’ll probably answer the same.

    With few exceptions, the trade associations that safeguard the interests of business are widely perceived to have hidden agendas. And those agendas rarely align with the public interest.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with representing the views of one’s members. Or debating the science. Or refining policy approaches. Freedom of speech and the right to disagree are hallmarks of a healthy democratic society. Moreover bipartisanship often results in sounder, more workable solutions.

    But where business associations and their members are going wrong is how they go about defending their interests.

    Take the US Chamber of Commerce (USCC) and climate change. Until very recently, its stance has been to discredit the scientific consensus and steadfastly oppose federal climate policy. Its contrarian tactics have ranged from powerful rhetoric to legal threats. But does this really serve its members?

    There’s an increasingly vocal constituency within the Chamber which thinks not. In the past year, Apple, Nike, Johnson & Johnson and Levi-Strauss have joined utilities Pacific Gas & Electric, PNM Resources and Exelon in publicly distancing themselves from the USCC position on climate legislation.

    It’s worth pointing out that four of them – Johnson & Johnson, PG&E Corporation, Exelon and PNM Resources – are also members of the United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), an alliance which lobbies for climate protection regulation.

    These companies should be commended for demonstrating a rare quality: consistency. They contrast starkly with the large number of companies quite happy to adopt a proactive public stance while allowing their business associations to lobby hard behind the scenes against the very issues they claim to support. Such hypocrisy undermines their credibility, not to mention integrity – and only serves to perpetuate a climate of policy uncertainty.

    This is not good for business and not good for sustainability. Climate change is divisive: some stand to benefit and others will lose out. Business associations tend to speak for the latter. But does this mean they have to be skeptical, unconstructive, short-termist and untransparent? Isn’t there a place for open and progressive advocacy on the very real trade-offs of climate change and helping losers adapt?

    That’s an enlightened cause for the ‘Dark Art’ of lobbying.

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