We Must Rein in Corporate Influence the Supreme Court's Citizens United Decision Is Undermining Democracy in America

Article excerpt

Many of us have read or heard of Isaac Asimov's "I, Robot," in which rogue robots of the future turn against society. We have rogue actors of our own creation turning on us now.

They are called corporations, and we need an Asimov-like "Three Laws of Robotics" that applies to them.

First: Corporations must not harm humans by any action they take or don't take. Second: Corporations must obey the orders of people, unless this violates the first law. Third: Corporation must protect themselves, but only when this does not violate the first two rules.

Supreme Court decisions, not duly enacted laws, have handed corporations the rights of American citizens. In January 2010 the Citizens United ruling upheld both personal rights for corporations and campaign spending as free speech. It allowed unlimited political spending by corporations. Thus was born the super PAC monster. The rogue robots arose.

Here are four ways corporate personal rights undermine the nation, Pennsylvania and the Pittsburgh region:

* First, they reduce the influence of small business. A U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report found that small businesses created over 60 percent of the nation's net new jobs from 1992 to 2010. But small companies shut down daily due to a tax and regulatory environment favoring the largest corporations. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce doubled its political spending in 2010 to keep those advantages for big business.

* Second, they increase the influence of big and foreign companies. Many U.S. Chamber members are foreign-owned corporations - - BP, UBS and News Corp. are well-known examples -- which pay the Chamber to influence U.S. politics. Citizens United increases their interference in U.S. affairs.

* Third, record corporate political spending undermines our ability to take resolute action. Ninety-four percent of the U.S. Chamber's $132 million in campaign contributions in 2010 supported politicians who deny climate change, such as Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania. Initiatives to produce more renewable energy and reduce our carbon footprint are stymied by politicians such as these.

* Fourth, when corporations use their influence to minimize their tax rates -- in times of record profits -- it reduces funding for education, infrastructure, health and other important investments our economy needs to function well. A study of 280 profitable large corporations by Citizens for Tax Justice found that 111 paid an effective tax rate of 17. …