On Tuesday, Tulsa’s League of Women Voters hosted a panel titled “Money Power VS. Power of the People.” Panelists included Trent England, a member of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, Tamara Piety, a Professor of Law who teaches at TU’s College of Law and Rodger Randle, the Director of Human Resources at Oklahoma University. As the name suggested, the panel was intended to inform audience members of the influence of money in political campaigns.
After a brief preamble by Elizabeth Harris, the president of the Women’s League of Voters, the audience was shown an informative, albeit youth-oriented youtube video. The video covered America’s recent history of regulations (or lack thereof) of political finance, especially electoral campaigns. This meant a detailed elaboration on the Supreme Court case of Citizens VS. FEC, or the Federal Elections Committee. At that time, the FEC intended to prohibit the corporation of Citizens United from releasing its film “Hillary: The Movie,” which the committee claimed violated the BCRA (the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act), as the film was not only politically motivated but funded by a private corporation with unlisted donors.
Citizens United, in turn, accused the BCRA of running counter to the first amendment, as it was attempting to restrict free speech. The Supreme Court ultimately reached a 5/4 ruling in favor of Citizens United, a decision whose lingering effects each of panelists gave their opinion on. Professor Randle called our modern political relationship with money dystopic, and cited the founding fathers. He quoted George Washington’s farewell address, in which he warns of the threat of corporations becoming “potent engines by which cunning, ambitious and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government.”
Prof. Piety concurred, for the most part, with Hughes. She emphasized the degree to which modern media has transformed the political environment, creating an unfortunate increase in illegitimate news sources and echo-chambers. On the topic of Citizens United, Piety criticized the Supreme Court’s decision to grant corporations the same privileges as citizens, spurring a movement towards “Corporate Civil Rights.” Money, she argued, had been equated to the speech of corporations.
Trent England found himself, as he did for much of the event, in disagreement with his fellow panelists. The federal government, he argued, had lost its case against Citizens United the moment it claimed it could ban books should it deem it necessary. He went on to say that we must remember that absolute power corrupts absolutely, and that the government is that ‘corrupting force.’ Later, after Piety made the argument that no amount of money can effectively sell a bad product, such as Jeb Bush or New Coke, England interjected and the two argued semantics over what constituted a “good product.”
Before the panelists began taking questions, Professors Randle and Piety agreed that freedom of expression was never meant to apply to advertising agencies or corporate representatives, whose vast influence on the public’s opinion requires some sort of regulation.
In closing, Professor Piety explained that Citizens United could be overturned either by the Supreme Court or by an amendment to the Constitution, consequently returning America to a healthier place of American politics. Trent England used the opportunity to argue that Brazil’s corruption should be perceived as a warning sign of government power gone too far, and that Oklahoma certainly needed more transparent government at the state level. Finally, Professor Randle seconded Piety’s hope that the ruling would be overturned but warned that “no law we can pass will protect us from our own incompetence as citizens,” urging the audience to stay politically vigilant on both local and national issues.
The event closed with a similar plea by Elizabeth Harris, who also informed the audience that the League had recently begun a two year project in which they would research the effects of Citizens United to better develop an opinion on the ruling.