To call it hypocrisy would be a gross understatement.
So let's just call it class war. Because that's what it is.
Writing in the March 11 Wall Street Journal, Steven J. Law, a bigwig lawyer for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, turns reality on its head by claiming working people and their unions were the BIG winners in the 5-4 Supreme Court "Citizens United" decision.
This is the decision that gave personhood - therefore free speech rights - to corporations, and lifted any restriction on their political spending. They are free to take their billions in profits - and TARP money - and buy elections and push their legislation.
But that's not enough for the chamber, according to Mr. Law. (No joke, that's his name.) The big business group is calling for draconian, and probably unconstitutional, limits on workers' ability to collectively have an impact on politics, to elect people that they feel will represent their interests. The Chamber of Commerce proposed anti-worker, anti-union restrictions include: require secret ballot elections to approve political spending; prohibit public sector unions from participating in elections of politicians who "will oversee their labor contracts" and prohibit the government from allowing automatic union dues payments from employee paychecks.
The interests of working people - good paying jobs, quality schools, affordable college tuition, health care, housing, clean air and water, you know, the basic necessities of life - are not the interests of Corporate America. Everyone knows their interest is to maximize their rate of profit.
Or to put it a way that sounds acceptable to some, "get the biggest return on investment for their stockholders."
These two interests - decent quality of life vs. maximization of profit (not just profit - maximum profit) - are in conflict with one another.
If this was just an opinion piece in the WSJ, it might not warrant commentary. After all everyone knows that newspaper speaks for the ruling class and their narrow interests.
However, it's that piece plus another one, in the Los Angles Times, which together merit commentary - and action.
The LA Times reports that the Chamber of Commerce is getting "record-setting amounts of money raised from corporations and wealth individuals."
They have taken that money, and not only put it into advertising for their candidates and causes, but into a "grassroots" apparatus of some 6 million people to help with lobbying and get-out-the-vote efforts for the congressional elections this fall. The article points to the Supreme Court decision as one reason for the influx of cash. The other is Wall Street and Big Business concern about Obama administration policies that curb corporate power and exert a role for government whether it be in health care, carbon emissions or financial regulations. The chamber is decidedly backing Republicans, the article says.
The U.S. labor movement was a key force in the historic election of Barack Obama. It mobilized more than 250,000 grassroots volunteers to get out the vote. It conducted a massive voter education program on the issues, including racism and how it hurts the labor movement. (Obama won the white union member vote.) This movement punches way above its weight, and is working to expand its numbers. And that's what Corporate America fears: a bigger labor movement that can challenge the narrow economic, social and political interests of the Chamber of Commerce and the Republican Party.
As lawmakers consider a response to the Supreme Court's reactionary Citizens United decision, curbing the devastating influence of Corporate America should be job number one.
Perhaps they could borrow a few chamber ideas:
- require the Chamber of Commerce to conduct secret ballot elections (supervised by the Commerce Department) among its "millions" of supporters before doing any political action spending;
- strengthen "pay-to-play" rules to prohibit Chamber of Commerce members from spending money to elect politicians that will oversee any business the chamber's members may have;
- prohibit chamber members who are under the influence of organized crime from ingratiating themselves with politicians by spending money on their elections.
The most important thing for Congress to do is get corporate money out of elections entirely by public financing of elections!
After all, even class war needs some rules.