Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Best Democracy Money Can Buy

The effort to elect Murray Hill to Congress is a political campaign unlike any other. It is rare for an election candidate to pledge to “put people second, or even third”, instead of the habitual (read: strategic, cynical, etc.) first, but then the aspiring representative for Maryland’s 8th District is not a person… but a corporation. According to its YouTube advert, Murray Hill, a public-relations firm, is taking advantage of a recent Supreme Court ruling that granted corporations full first-amendment political rights as people, to help create “the best democracy money can buy.”

Despite the Supreme Court’s controversial 5-4 ruling in the “Citizens United” case, which removed longstanding restrictions on political activism by companies, this bid for office still faces significant obstacles—not least the requirement that candidates in Maryland be at least 18 years old. Murray Hill (Inc.) is just five. And it is hard to imagine many people voting for a candidate explicitly committed to putting business first. The Supreme Court ruling takes the corporate-citizenship metaphor a step further by equating what is an artificial creation of the law with flesh-and-blood citizens, at least when it comes to the right to free speech.

According to Murray Hill, Inc. spokesman, Eric Hensal:

“We just believe that we should take the middleman out of politics. If you're going to let the ability to have unlimited money flow from corporations, you know, into campaigns, well, you'll just have greedy politicians sort of bidding up the price to do politics. We think the consumer would suffer over time, you know, paying a politics tax. So we're just advocating taking the middleman out and directly electing corporations, and we feel that just is… in some ways… probably a more honest way of doing things.”

Still, the Murray Hill candidacy does raise an important point about the future of democracy and the role of business within it. The Supreme Court decision appears certain to increase the influence of business in American politics, which is widely perceived as having grown significantly in recent years. It is assumed that the court’s decision will “open the floodgates to special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in U.S. elections.”

Sources: National Public Radio, The Economist