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Supreme Court ruling a call to action: stand-up to corporate influence over politics

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court opened the floodgates for corporate dollars to flow into federal election campaigns. The 5-4 ruling strikes down decades-old laws and legal precedents restricting corporate spending on political campaigns. What does this mean? If unchallenged, it means the world's largest corporations will intensify their influence over our political system. It means there will be ever less accountability for corporations that abuse the public's health and our environment. It means we will forfeit personal freedoms, and the integrity of our democracy, so that a handful of corporations can prosper.

This decision comes at an unlikely time. The corrupting influence of corporate greed over our political system is the subject of today's headlines. Efforts to pass truly progressive health care reform have been slowed and gutted by major insurance companies like CIGNA.

Efforts to head off another economic crisis with strong new restrictions on irresponsible and speculative lending have been torpedoed by the banking industry. Big Oil and Coal's lobbying and disinformation campaigns have effectively tied climate reforms in knots.

With the limited campaign finance reforms we had on the books, public officials are already doing the bidding of the special interests, which finance their campaigns through political action committees. But now the world's largest corporations can spend unlimited amounts of money directly from their treasuries to fund activities supporting candidates that will do their bidding while opposing candidates who will not.

When candidates beholden to special interests reach office they have a tendency to let Big Business operate in its own interest, not the public interest. The New York Times' recent coverage of widespread Clean Water Act violations is but one example of what happens when public servants are beholden to private interests. For one, laws go unenforced. Laws are also written to favor the few over the many. Needed public health, environmental and consumer protections die in committee.

The court majority argues that limiting corporate dollars to elections is akin to limiting free speech. The sentiment ignores the fact that without checks and balances in campaign financing, speech is not free - it is reserved for the highest bidder. This is not to mention the threat to the sanctity of our government. Throughout the course of our history laws have been written to guarantee against the rule of the many by the few. When special interests and the dollars that give them their standing are granted disproportionate access to our elected leaders, individuals lose a right to self-governance that is enshrined in our Constitution.

Corporate Accountability International has been a long time advocate for getting Big Business - and corporate money - out of politics. Our work on the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) resulted in a widely embraced international treaty that enacted a comprehensive ban on tobacco industry advertising, promotion and sponsorship. Part of the argument used to successfully push for passage of this treaty was that 'paid' speech by a corporation should not be considered the same as 'free' speech by individuals.

Our work on the Corporate Hall of Shame over the past two decades has shone a bright light on corporations such as Dow Chemical, Philip Morris, Waste Management and Columbia/HCA - whose influence-peddling fueled by corporate dollars had reached unprecedented levels.

We have also developed "Standards of Political Conduct for Corporations" which we have used to guide our own campaign work challenging corporate abuse and to help shape the broader movement to protect human rights against corporate abuse. In particular, these standards set a high bar, by calling upon corporations to end financial contributions to political candidates, parties and referenda worldwide.

In the spirit of our long-time work to keep the corrupting influence of Big Business from dominating our democracy we are calling on people nationwide to support the Fair Elections Now Act (FENA), a bill currently being considered by the U.S. Congress.  This bill, if passed, would create a strong model for publicly financed campaigns. It allows political candidates to bypass corporate contributions by relying on small donor contributions which would then be matched by public financing.

While such public campaign financing programs will not fully end the flow of corporate dollars into the political process, it may give the public some high ground from which to continue supporting elected officials that put the public interest before special corporate interests. Take action here.

Though today is a dark day for campaign finance reform, it need only be a temporary setback when we join together in working toward a more just and fair world for our children to live in.

Please take action today and join us in our efforts for the long haul to stem the rising tide of corporate influence.

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