MARTY RUSSELL: What's the difference between people, corporations?

By Marty Russell

Corporations are people too, my friend,” Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney famously said while campaigning in Iowa last year. More recently, Romney said, “I like to fire people.”
That begs the question, then why doesn’t he fire all those corporations pouring huge amounts of cash into Super PACs, super political action committees, that operate outside normal campaign finance laws and can spend as much money as they want to support a candidate with negative attack ads against their opponents?
It’s been reported that Super PACs, which aren’t bound by regulations limiting how much an individual can contribute to a political campaign even if Romney considers them “people,” have invested at least $6 million in Romney’s campaign thus far, not directly but through negative ads against his opponents. Reports also indicate Super PACs spent a total of about $15 million on advertisin aimed against their chosen candidates’ rivals in Iowa alone.
Who says you can’t buy an election in this country? The group Public Campaign Action Fund, which advocates limits on campaign spending, estimates that less than 100 people are responsible for 90 percent of the spending thus far in the 2012 presidential campaign. Just recently, casino owner Sheldon Adelson wrote a $5 million check to a PAC supporting Republican Newt Gingrich. Talk about a gambler.
So why do we need voters? Does anyone honestly believe that our measly $5, $10 or even $1,000 contributions to a political campaign buys us any influence either from the candidate or in the race? If you do, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.
The McCain-Feingold bill passed in 2002 was supposed to limit the influence of large corporations and big spenders in political campaigns to give people – real people, not corporations – more voice in the process. But that was derailed in the Supreme Court’s ruling two years ago next week in the Citizens United case saying it was a violation of the First Amendment to put restrictions on campaign spending by corporations and unions. Odd that you can, under the law, restrict spending by individuals – people – but not corporations.
Now Common Cause and even the shareholders of some of those corporations are fighting back with a campaign called Amend2012 (Amend2012.org) to put initiatives on the ballots to have Congress pass a constitutional amendment reversing the Citizens United ruling. Shareholders at Bank of America, 3M and Target have also introduced resolutions asking their corporations to stay out of politics.
In that respect, maybe Romney was right. Corporations are people too. And people don’t like their elections being bought by big powerful interests whose only concern in a race is what the candidate they decide to back can do for them. That’s not “we the people.” That’s “us the powerful.”
Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 222 Farley Hall, University MS 38677 or by email at marusse1@olemiss.edu.