01 February 2010

The Freedom to Fund

When I get an idea for a blog post, sometimes I'll meditate on it for way too long, which usually means it's not a good fit. I was going to write about how CB Richard Ellis, the largest commercial real estate company in the world, sends live people in to speak with clients, as well as people who chose not to use CBRE, to find out what they thought about the process and the company and what could be done better. Using live people immediately after an interaction with a client or potential client seems like an excellent step towards truly gauging what practices are effective or not, but highlighting smart business practices isn't what this blog is about. This blog about highlighting business practices that help or harm communities, that spread opportunity, that exhibit responsibility, and that influence our politics.

Over the past couple weeks, I went from thinking about business practices that ensure satisfied clients to thinking about the Supreme Court's decision that corporations have the same rights as individuals.  At first, the idea that corporations could pour as much money as they desire into political ads horrified me. Then I realized it might just issue in an era of visibility in the process. Corporations would no longer have to pay its executives taxable "income"in order to funnel money into campaigns (as one business owner explained to me that he did) or create generic organizations with some mix of words including "freedom" and "American" as fronts to their political agendas. Then again, why would a corporation, if it were large and innocuous enough, risk alienating large groups of consumers to put it's stamp of approval or disapproval on a candidate if it can continue shrouding its agenda through other means?

My prediction for corporate campaign money: not much, fundamentally, will change. The means by which money gets directed into politics may change, but as a bank executive so wisely noted in the Frontline special, "The Card Game," government can change the rules, and companies will simply find ways around them. If we can't change the culture of business and grow the belief that corporations can only succeed as much as the people who build and use them, then legislation won't help much. This does not mean that I think corporations haven't abused their political influence--the pharmaceutical industry has especially sketchy ties to the government--but changing the face of campaign contributions won't break the system any more than it's already broken or fix it to a point where the system is fair to individuals. Now changing the lobbying system, the earmark system, the electoral college--those things might actually make a difference!

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