The election season is over and by estimates from the Center for Responsive Politics, it cost $6 billion to elect our president. Records from the International Monetary Fund show that is more than the gross domestic product of several small nations like Grenada, Malawi and Belize.
Corporate interests contributed more than $76.4 million to Super PACs, 501©4s, 501©6s (social welfare nonprofits) and other entities in order to turn our elections into auctions, reported Demos, the liberal research center.
Interventions by corporations in elections started before the decision in the Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission case in 2010, which posited that corporations are people.
Out of the necessity to establish a framework within the law, whereby corporate entities were able to enter contracts, be sued, advertise, etc., corporate personhood was developed.
Three theories have driven the discussion over how corporations should be treated under the law. Natural entity theory said corporations are legal entities with their own rights.
Associational theory posits that corporations have rights derived from the rights of their owners.
State charter theory differs in that it views corporations as products of state law, and the state has the power to define those corporate entities.
The dominant theory of corporate personhood has been the natural entity theory, which has led to corporations with the freedom of speech and the ability to “speak” loudly in our elections. One of the earliest cases to establish this form of corporate personhood was Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward, which reached the Supreme Court in 1819.
This case was the first to establish constitutional protections for corporations, which led to decisions like that delivered in First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti in 1978. The Supreme Court ruled that Massachusetts could not ban corporate expenditures to influence voters on state ballot initiatives.
In Randall v. Sorrell, which followed in 2006, the Supreme Court struck down the political contribution limits that Vermont had established. The majority ruled Vermont’s laws violated the First Amendment to the Constitution.
Finally, in 2010 the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission that unlimited contributions by corporations and unions may be made to political action committees and other entities in order to influence elections.
The results of these developments were evident this election cycle. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich, defeated her opponent Pete Hoekstra in the Senate race for a myriad of reasons. Her supporters may believe she was the better option, but she also outspent her opponent.
Stabenow spent more than $12 million on her re-election, while Hoekstra spent about $4.5 million, showed reports by the Center for Responsive Politics. Her top five contributors were: EMILY’s List, DTE Energy, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Demmer Corp. and the University of Michigan.
Hoekstra’s top five contributors were: PVS Chemicals, Caidan Management Company, Amway Corp. (Alticor), Dickstein Shapiro and Haworth Inc.
The Sunlight Foundation, which tracks election finances, reports that independent expenditures by Super PACs, 501©4s and the like measured almost $275,000 in favor of Stabenow. There was over $1 million in independent expenditures spent in opposition.
Comparatively, there was about $171,000 spent in favor of Hoekstra, and about $1,455 spent in opposition.
Stabenow didn’t win. Hoekstra didn’t win. The Republican Party didn’t win, and the Democratic Party didn’t win Nov. 6. Money won.