What Constitutes Constituency?



  • A body of voters in a specified area who elect a representative to a legislative body
  • The people who live and vote in an area
  • An electoral district
  • In the era of Citizens United the question of what constitutes
    constituency is a legitimate one. Indeed, it may be the biggest question
    of this election cycle. Traditionally, a constituent was a person, or
    group of people, that gave a politician mandate as an elected
    representative. Conversely, politicians were seen to have an obligation
    to their constituents since mandate required that legislators behave in a
    way that reflected the desires of their constituents.  However, in 2020
    it appears that what constitutes constituency is no longer this
    traditional obligation, but rather a cacophony of corporate interest and
    moneyed Super PACS. Moreover, in this age of ‘corporations are people’
    it also appears that this reinstantiation extends all the way to the
    White House as moneyed interests invariably concentrate power.

    So, how did we get started down this path? Long before Citizens
    United there was another SCOTUS case that garners far less attention but
    was ultimately more impactful in my opinion. In that case, Buckley vs
    Valeo , SCOTUS destroyed several provisions of the the Federal Election Campaign Act on grounds that those provisions violated First Amendment rights.

    First some background. The Federal Election Campaign Act
    of 1971 and 1974 sought to “restrain personal contributions”, establish
    specific “ceilings for media expenditures”, and mandate “full public
    disclosure of campaign receipts and disbursements”. (Buckley v. Valeo, Opinion of the Court) The goal was to preserve equality of voice in our democracy by regulating campaign contributions and limiting spending. An additional amendment provided public financing for presidential elections.
    In the wake of Watergate this seemed like the moral thing to do.
    Unfortunately, in a per curiam opinion however, SCOTUS agreed that
    several key provisions of the FECA were unconstitutional. Their
    objections were not governed by a desire for equality of voice but
    rather by an argument that married campaign contributions and spending
    to political free speech. It is clear in retrospect that this ruling
    provided the necessary precedence for   Citizens United.

    Before we consider the extent of this argument, however, we should
    first distinguish from a philosophical point of view, why money in
    politics may be a bad thing. In Plato’s The Republic, Socrates makes
    clear that the philosopher kings despise political power and rule.
    Conversely, if those who wish to govern are seekers of power and money,
     they will not seek the good of the entire city-state, but rather pursue
    political office for their own benefit. Ergo, philosopher kings make
    better rulers. Since they are not interested in acquiring these types of
    rewards, their sole motivation becomes the well being of the ruled and
    the common good. Their commitment to justness and their hatred of power
    obligates this.

    Plato further believed that the problem of who should rule generally
    lead to an inflexible and destabilizing disagreement between economic
    elites and the masses; and that rule by philosopher kings would avert
    such a controversy.  “For it is likely that if a city of good men came
    to be, there would be a fight over not ruling, just as there is now over
    ruling; and there it would become manifest that a true ruler really
    does not naturally consider his own advantage but rather that of the one
    who is ruled.” (The Republic, Pg 25)
    Modern political philosopher
    John Rawls also discusses the ethics surrounding money in democracy. In a
    Theory of Justice, Rawls states:

    “The liberties protected by the principle of participation lose much
    of their value whenever those who have greater private means are
    permitted to use their advantages to control the course of public
    debate. For eventually these inequalities will enable those better
    situated to exercise a larger influence over the development of
    legislation.” Continuing,“… political parties are to be made independent
    from private economic interests by allotting them sufficient tax
    revenues to play their part in the constitutional scheme. What is
    necessary is that political parties be autonomous with respect to
    private demands, that is, demands not expressed in the public forum and
    argued for openly by reference to a conception of the public good.  If
    society does not bear the costs of organization, and party funds need to
    be solicited from the more advantaged social and economic interests,
    the pleadings of those groups are bound to receive excessive attention.
    And this is all the more likely when the less favored members of
    society, having been effectively prevented by their lack of means from
    exercising their fair degree of influence, withdraw into apathy and
    resentment” (Pg. 198, chapter on Political Justice and The Constitution)

    Rawls is pretty clear on the idea that those with access to greater
    funds can unduly influence legislation that benefits the few at the
    expense of the majority; and that this can lead to unjustness in our

    So, it seems that equality of influence and equality of voice in
    political elections should be the assurance of campaign contribution
    jurisprudence and legislation. Yet, here we are in 2016 and it is not.
    This fact brings us full circle to the question originally posited: What
    constitutes constituency?

    I would argue that the idea that any corporation should be granted
    the same constitutional and natural rights as individual citizens is
    morally perverse and a degradation to our democracy. A prime example of
    this is manifested in the 2013 SCOTUS case Burell vs Hobby Lobby
    . Indeed, the most damaging point in Samuel Alito’s opinion was his
    definition of a corporation. He states, “A corporation is simply a form
    of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends…When
    rights, whether constitutional or statutory, are extended to
    corporations, the purpose is to protect the rights of these people.”
    (Hobby Lobby decision, Alito) In other words, corporations are
    collections of individuals, so deserve all the protections the
    individuals in the collective have.  Yet, given the effects of this
    decision, that claim is questionable at best. Millions of women were
    denied insurance-covered access to birth control whether or not they
    agreed with the religious underpinnings that motivated the organizations
    owners. What of their rights? A true preservation of rights would have
    left every woman’s choice intact. If you morally disagree with taking
    birth control you have the choice to not do so. The beliefs of the
    owners were given precedence over many employees in the collective,
    rendering his argument moot. For missing from Alito’s definition of
    collective were the individual voices of all its employees. Not all were
    heard nor given equality of voice. So, clearly, the belief that a
    corporation is a collective of individuals and ergo is entitled to the
    same rights as an individual- regardless of whether all the participants
    in the collective agree- is deeply flawed.

    Further compounding the problem is the disturbing fact that
    corporations are additionally afforded rights that individuals are not
    necessarily entitled too. These include massive tax benefits and several
    forms of liability protection. So it prima facie appears that SCOTUS is
    not being consistent in the way it views the interchangeability of
    individuals and corporations. Why is this?

    As we discussed earlier, money consolidates power. And it does so in a
    continual vicious cycle.  Public policy no longer focuses on public
    goods but rather on further ingraining the desires of the moneyed elite
    who contribute millions to our political candidates. And, morosely, this
    truism is not contained to any one party- it is systemic. At this
    point, to deny that quid pro quo between politicians and corporate
    interest isn’t a reality is simply naïve.

    One of the latest manifestations of this vicious cycle is known as
    inversion. Inversion is when an American corporation endeavors to buy a
    foreign company in order to move their headquarters abroad with the sole
    purpose of not paying American corporate taxes. Importantly, the
    majority of employees, sales and profits still remain in the United
    States. To put it bluntly, these corporations suck at the government
    teat, leach off the American taxpayer and reap ever increasing profits
    while giving close to nothing back. They move their headquarters abroad,
    continue to use our paved highways, police and the like, pay wages so
    low that chunks of their employees collect both Medicaid and food
    stamps, and often do so after taking advantage of government subsidized
    tax breaks designed to keep them here in the United States. All the
    while, Congress has become ineffectual at stopping it due to the reams
    of laws created by the corporate lobbyists whose money put them into
    office. The wealth of the United States is being extracted, my fellow
    Americans, and there is seemingly no end in sight. But that’s not what’s
    most tragic. What’s most tragic is that we have done this to ourselves
    by blindly handing over ever increasing amounts of power to corporate
    interests at the expense of individual citizens and the American common

    In the wake of Citizens United, President Obama stated in his 2010
    State of the Union address that one of the unintended consequences of
    the SCOTUS decision would not only be the unlimited contributions of
    American corporations, but also those from foreign companies. In his
    dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens more or less agreed with Obama
    stating the court’s majority “would appear to afford the same protection
    to multinational corporations controlled by foreigners as to individual
    Americans.” Even so, when Obama stated this, Samuel Alito appeared to
    openly mouth “Not true”. Really Judge Alito? It should be obvious that
    what is in the best interests of a foreign company with an American
    subsidiary is not necessarily in the best interests of America. Yet,
    here we are in 2016 and it seems that Obama’s predictions and worries
    were somewhat accurate. There are now multi nationals openly lobbying
    Congress. There is dark money whose origin cannot be traced. There are
    foreign entities giving large sums of capital to non-profits held by
    political candidates and those who support them.

    Dissenters to my argument will more than likely state the obvious.
    Unlimited spending in advertising is not the same thing as being able to
    contribute unlimited sums directly to the candidate. But isn’t it? Is
    not the main focus of any political campaign the shaping of perception?
    The packaging and selling of the candidate? And what better way of doing
    thus in this modern media age than through advertising? Indeed, in 2008
    President Obama’s campaign won top awards in advertising garnering Ad
    Age’s Marketer of the Year, and Obama for America unanimously won two
    Grand Prix awards at Cannes.

    Dissenters may further argue that I am conflating artificial rights
    with natural rights. Yet, am I? Granted the traditional domain for
    corporate rights was certainly artificial. And I am not arguing against
    that here. What I am claiming is that along the way corporate rights
    have morphed from artificial rights to a perverse version of natural
    rights. Artificial personhood at one time allowed corporations to enter
    into contracts, engage in litigation, collect fees and pay wages and
    taxes-  but did not grant the same kind of natural rights we are
    discussing here. We have clearly exceeded these traditional confines of
    artificial personhood, so as far as I am concerned the argument of
    artificial rights is a moot one.

    At this stage in the game I do not see how a defense of unlimited
    money in politics is tenable. I do not see how bestowing corporations
    with the same natural rights as individuals has served us well. I do not
    see a legitimate reason to further the argument that corporations are
    constituents on the same level as individual citizens. It has simply
    gone too far and is contributing to unsustainable income inequality.
    And, most importantly, I am concerned by the systemic lack of will to
    change these things within the political establishment of both parties.
    Its dangerous.

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