Consumer Power: What the radical Supreme Court ruling means to you

The Declaration of Independence says "that all men are created equal." Anyone who's ever dealt with a failed product or the world's most annoying customer service knows that not all corporations are created equal. But according to yesterday's Supreme Court ruling,Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, that undid crucial parts of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, a corporation is equal to a person, when it comes to freedom of speech.

The five conservative justices on the Supreme Court want you to believe that your voice is just as powerful as a multi-national corporation with money to burn. But can you afford to produce and air a commercial on prime time television saying what it is you love about a candidate or what you think needs to change in this country?

Can you afford to hire an award-winning Madison Avenue firm to produce your ad campaign and then pay the major networks to run that commercial over and over again? If you can't, how is your voice or my voice equal to that of corporations when they can outspend us billions to one?

Here to discuss what this radical Supreme Court ruling means to us -- the consumers -- is Walletpop's own Mitch Lipka, the Consumer Ally.

Q: Will future candidates running for public office have to wear NASCAR jumpsuits with corporate logos all over them? Will we be voting for our favorite conglomerate of corporations one day instead of candidates?

While it's too soon to know exactly how this will all look, it is reasonable to expect you're going to see companies ramp up their participation in federal races. You won't be voting for companies per se, but you'll certainly be aware of who they are supporting and why. Because corporations have so much at stake with federal candidates -- as well as candidates for judgeships -- they will invest mightily in those they think will support their causes. You're not likely to see them wear ads or have product placements as you see in the movies because candidates try to distance themselves from the idea they can be purchased or leased.

Q: Are corporations obligated to disclose to their shoppers who they support politically and are giving money to?

They don't have to tell shoppers, but their donations will be recorded for all to see. A risk companies run is backing causes that run counter to what many of their consumers believe. That is a likely check in the system. You're more likely to see health care companies, for instance, line up together to push a certain agenda. Of course, companies that aren't afraid of wearing their politics on their sleeves -- like gun-makers supporting the right to own weapons -- will pony up their cash by the truckload.

Q: This essentially turns shopping into going to the ballot box. Anytime you buy something, should you now be concerned with which candidate this corporation is supporting?

People develop opinions about who they do business with. Companies work very hard to cultivate their images. A company that reaches a huge mass market would be foolish to portray itself as a political chess master on a polarizing issue. If you are a supporter of the anti-abortion movement, for example, you are likely to develop strong antipathy for a company backing causes on the other side. Some companies aren't afraid of that type of polarization; most are.

Q: The Christian Science Monitor points out that, "Exit polls after recent elections have shown that many voters hold false factual beliefs, and that these mistaken beliefs influence their votes." This ruling will only make this problem worse by letting corporations orchestrate fancy ad campaigns that bombard us with emotional messages -- you know, advertising. How can we get them to stick to the facts?

People can be manipulated by slick marketing campaigns. There is no question the amount of money that will be spent on some of these campaigns will be staggering and, of course, slick. People will be influenced and, in some cases, misled. They're ads and should be processed that way. We all are responsible for our own conclusions. If you don't like what's being sold or who's selling it, don't buy it.

Q: Do you predict that this change will increasingly mislead voters?

See answer above.

Q: What can consumers do to resist these influences if our Congress fails at passing legislation to combat this ruling?

This won't be different than all the advertising you're bombarded with right now except that it will be cause-based and not always clear as to where it's coming from. Everyone ought to do their own due diligence. If there's any good that could come of all this for consumers, maybe it will wake up the need to better filter all the garbage that's thrown at them. Everyone's entitled to their own opinions, of course, but it ought to be based on some foundation -- not just an ad.
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