Mitt Romney and ‘Citizens United’

Mitt Romney’s inevitable re-emergence and manipulation of the 2012 presidential race comes about largely because many Republicans are dissatisfied with the alternatives. But, there’s another factor, a Supreme Court ruling back in January 2010 that empowered the candidacy of a corporatist like Mr. Romney in the first place.

You’ll recall, in its “Citizens United v. Federal Elections Ruling,” the Supreme Court blocked a ban on corporate spending, thereby endowing corporate giants with a free hand in spending on political elections. Through a rather distorted interpretation of the First Amendment, thanks to this ruling corporations are no longer considered paper entities, but are instead viewed as corporate personhoods, thus enabling them to exert undue influence on elections by blurring boundaries between companies and people.

So, whether Mitt Romney becomes the Republican presidential nominee or not, his presence in a presidential year makes it even more important for Congress, and the president, to start the important work of overturning “Citizens United” as Romney, himself, the mastermind behind Bain Capital, is the personification of corporate power.

While it may be too late for Congress to push through a constitutional amendment to rescind “Citizens United” and have the states ratify it in time for the next election, it’s not too soon to make the voting public aware of the threat to democracy posed not just by that 2010 Supreme Court ruling, but by candidates, like Romney, who extol their business acumen, but neglect to mention that it often came at the expense of jobs, and unions.

It’s important not to demonize Romney either, but to recognize that, like Scott Walker, Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, and Paul Ryan, he reflects the values of a party that has a long, and harrowing history of union busting going back to Ronald Reagan and the air traffic controller’s strike. Equally important is the arrogance of bolstering the corporate bottom line at the expense of working people, and the poor.

Make no mistake, Mr. Romney and his friends have not only extolled the virtues of venture capitalism, they have made a religion of it, and one that is well on the way to bringing about a financial apocalypse.

Mitt Romney morphed from Mormon missionary to free market missionary. A thumbnail of his background shows that nearly 30 years ago, he broke away from Bain & Company to found Bain Capital, a private equity investment firm. In one year alone, according to the Boston Globe, he was credited with raising $37 million in investment money.

Bain Capital’s calling card was, at first, venture capital, and their first major investment was Staples, Inc. Bain then quickly transitioned into the field of leveraged buyouts which made for the acquisition of companies like Domino’s Pizza, Sealy Corporation, Sports Authority, and Artisan Entertainment.

While Bain Capital was immensely lucrative, some troubling developments occurred when Damon Corporation, a company on whose board Romney sat, was prosecuted for defrauding the government. The prosecution went forward after Bain Capital, after nearly tripling its investment, sold off its interest in Damon. Damon was not under Bain Capital’s rubric when accusations of defrauding the government were made, and Romney was never prosecuted, or even implicated in the prosecution, but the very fact that a company that had been under Bain’s tutelage would later find its way into court on charges of fraud is, to say the least, unsettling.

In 2007, an article in the New York Times noted that Mr. Romney had been criticized “in the somewhat messy world of leveraged buyouts,” a world that has since become a whole lot messier.

Apart from the leveraged buyout controversy, as the Times also reports, Romney’s 1994 campaign in Massachusetts for the Senate was defeated by an indefatigable, and memorable move by Ted Kennedy to publicize the firing of union workers at one of Bain Capital’s companies in Indiana. The notion that a candidate’s company was behind the firing of union members wouldn’t help Romney any more today than it did nearly 20 years ago. All we need is someone like Ted Kennedy to remind people of Romney’s roots.

Though Romney insisted he wasn’t responsible for the firings, he also conceded that leveraged buyouts often result in layoffs. “Sometimes the medicine is a little bitter but it is necessary to save the life of the patient,” Romney told the Times back in 2007. It’s a safe bet that, if it were possible, Mr. Romney would like to eat those words now.

The notion of leveraging corporate success on the backs of workers, union members, and the poor is not something that most Americans want to hear right now, but this is exactly the message governors, like Christie, and former governors, like Palin, are peddling, and no one is calling them on it.

Mitt Romney left Bain Capital back in 1999 when he became CEO of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games. Retired partners of large conglomerates often receive passive profit shares long after they’re gone, and Mitt Romney is no exception. One thing is guaranteed, he won’t be applying for work at Domino’s Pizza anytime soon.

In the end, this isn’t about Mr. Romney. The Supreme Court neatly took care of that. The Supreme Court has set in motion the machinery that makes it irrelevant who the candidate is; what matters is the corporation behind the candidate.

Thanks to “Citizens United” ruling, it’s now much easier, under the guise of the First Amendment, for companies like Staples, Sealy, Domino’s, and Sports Authority to spend as much as they want on presidential political campaigns anonymously. Unlike voters in 13 states that just passed voter identification laws, including Wisconsin and Texas, corporations won’t be required to show their face, only the face of their candidate.

Congressional efforts to change that with “The Disclose Act,” legislation mandating companies disclose their contributions to political campaigns, were derailed. Savor the irony that the same legislators who demand photo I.D.s from private citizens are giving corporations a free pass to conceal their own identities, and contributions to political campaigns.

The Supreme Court set a precedent back in 2000 by deciding a hotly contested presidential race. Yet another precedent was set by the Supreme Court in 2010 by not only facilitating another stolen election, but by providing the getaway car.

Jayne Lyn Stahl is a widely published poet, essayist, playwright, and screenwriter, member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA.

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