A week after ranting about the politicization of absolutely everything, I find myself ranting again. My Facebook page hasn’t gotten any less political, but it has gotten muddled. Tonight I noticed a paid Facebook ad, promoted by Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, asking for help to Get The Dough Out of Politics. Admirable, Don Quixotic thought, but also a little like trying to make water less wet. What’s more, there are a few contradictions here.
There has been a lot of sound and fury lately about whether corporations are people. The video for Get The Dough Out of Politics helps answer this. A lot of passionate individuals, men and women, young and old, speak to the issue of campaign finance reform. They all are employees who work for two guys named Ben and Jerry, who happen to be a decent sized corporation that makes really fine ice cream. So, yes, corporations are people who have livelihoods tied to common business interests. Sometimes companies or entire industries hire lobbyists and contribute funds to political campaigns to support candidates and programs that advance their business interests.
Citizens United, the Supreme Court case that Ben and Jerry’s would like to see overturned by constitutional amendment, ruled that such corporate efforts, including paid lobbying and political advertising, is free speech protected by the U.S. Constitution.
Ben and Jerry’s and I share a common opinion that it is imperative to protect the free speech of U.S. citizens. Ben and Jerry’s thinks to do so, we must drive money out of the equation. However, they are paying for ads and videos to advance that cause. I am glad to see them exercising their own right to corporate free speech as protected by Citizens United. Actually, I am glad to see anyone investing in anything at the moment.
As Ben and Jerry’s would quickly point out, they are just two peace-loving guys who also love to make ice cream and occasional questionable marketing decisions. In other words, there is a world of difference between them and the Koch Brothers, who the Left is convinced is capable of buying elections. The Koch Brothers are popular targets — Dan Ackroyd and John Lithgow play thinly veiled versions of them in the wildly funny film, The Campaign. Meanwhile, those on the Right lodge the same complaints about George Soros.
Money does buy political messaging and it is ripe for abuse. But it costs a lot to run political campaigns. And not all political messaging is bad. I am sure Ben and Jerry’s is convinced of the purity of its purpose. The problem is that every time Washington DC introduces campaign finance reform, they seldom get it right. They make the process cumbersome. Political committees figure out workarounds (Super Pacs). And the danger grows that free speech will be eliminated (it can’t be for just the other guy — federal laws cut both ways). I’ve heard others suggest that the way to approach this is to introduce full transparency — make it a requirement to disclose who is contributing to which candidates and how much. However, to that thought, in this political season, personal contributors (not corporations) to one candidate have been targeted in advertising and with questionable allegations about them made by the other candidate. Naturally, the result has been personal harrassment. Money, power, full disclosure, and dirty politics. What a mess.
Might be time for some new Ben and Jerry’s flavors — Campaign Cashew and Freedom Brittle.