Opinion, by Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Curmudgeon pays attention to news concerning the Judicial Branch of both Brazil and the USA. He is happy to report that Brazil’s Supreme Court (STF) has been doing a better job of promoting democracy than its northerly counterpart SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States).

The Curmudgeon, aka Michael Royster.
The Curmudgeon, aka Michael Royster.

Consider campaign finance.

In 2010 SCOTUS declared unconstitutional a law that prohibited corporations from engaging in “electioneering communications”. The logic of the majority decision (5-4) was that corporations were persons, and enjoyed the constitutional right of free speech.

STF, on the other hand, has recently rendered two decisions completely contrary to the above logic. In September, an 8-3 decision flatly prohibited corporations from donating to election campaigns, saying corporations are not people, they can’t vote or be voted.

Last week, STF further decided (unanimously) to suspend a provision of a recent statute that permitted individual donations to political parties to be re-passed to individual candidates without specifying the donor. Once again, STF specified that transparence was essential in elections and that without it, democracy would suffer.

The difference in decisions can be viewed as a result of differing attitudes towards money. A majority of SCOTUS feels that corporate money is not in itself evil, whereas a majority of STF feels it is. Perhaps this difference has been generated by the latest scandals, where it has become clear that big Brazilian corporate donors contribute so as to receive big contracts.

In fairness, the SCOTUS decision in Citizens United did not overturn the prohibition against corporations making direct donations to parties or politicians; rather, it permitted financing broadcasts, using First Amendment protections. The Curmudgeon feels this is a distinction without a difference, since campaign broadcasts affect elections.

In short, STF has got it right: corporations are not real people, and should not have the same election rights as real people.

The Curmudgeon will emit more Smidgens opportunely.


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