In a ruling with controversial repercussions on the way we fund elections, and what constitutes as free speech, heated debated still rages over the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC on the cusp of its five-year anniversary.
The Court held in Citizens United that political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, and that the government cannot restrict corporations, non-profits or labor unions from spending money or formally endorsing or denouncing a political campaign or candidate. Consequentially, the decision increased the ability of corporations to translate their economic might into political power with million dollar ad buys to influence elections.
Despite the Court’s overtures to small corporations, the biggest beneficiaries of the Citizens United ruling have surely not been the small business owners who fuel much of the nation’s economic growth and job creation, but rather some of the world’s largest companies. Since 2010, deep-pocketed corporations have spent hundreds of millions to elect friendly candidates to office who will push policies giving their business a competitive advantage and increasing their bottom lines.
A new study from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University found firms with corporate treasuries large enough to make regular political contributions “experienced lower and more consistent effective tax rates in the long run.” On average, corporate political givers received a return on investment of around $33 million.
Conversely, most small business owners don’t have the time or money to spend on politics and are increasingly worried about their growing exclusion from the political process. A poll conducted by Small Business Majority found 66 percent of small business owners agreed the Citizens United ruling was bad for small business because it gives big business unlimited political spending power – this on top of 88 percent who negatively view the role money plays in politics.
“Small businesses don’t have the massive bank accounts large corporations have to help fund and endorse like-minded candidates,” said Jamal Lee, owner of Breasia Studios in Laurel, MD. “The Citizens United ruling is just another example of big business having a leg-up over us small business owners.”
With the Citizens United decision, the political system has become even more stacked against the interests of small firms. Small businesses end up paying the price for big money politics that allow large firms to secure special perks and advantages over their smaller, less politically connected competitors. It’s the modern political equivalent of David and Goliath, with entrepreneurs fighting to have their voices heard over the ka-ching of corporate donations filling the coffers of political candidates around the country.
Small businesses aren’t asking for special favors, just a government that understands and responds to their needs. Like most Americans, they want a democracy where small donors have the same influence and access to political leaders as wealthy CEOs and large corporations, and the transparency that comes with that. Leveling the playing field with big business and bringing fairness to our election system is not ideological, it’s pragmatic.
Small business owners have always been vital contributors to America. They play by the rules. They create jobs. They stimulate the economy. In order to ensure they continue to flourish and expand, small business owners need a real say in the government decisions affecting their businesses and communities.