In an effort to break a debate stalemate which seems to have wandered down the lost-in-the-woods side trail of "one voice or many voices" when describing the Citizens United decision, I thought it prudent to refocus on the two most important words of said decision: "General treasuries". It's within these two words where our 1st Amendment freedoms and protections are being weathered under the landscape-changing forces of money, and we should at least be able to recognize the threat, even if we can't escape the storm.
Arguments have been made that corporations are nothing more than a group of individuals. In the strictest definition, this is true. But within a corporation, especially a business corporation, not all individuals are equal. There is a hierarchy in place, and no clear-thinking person would assume that a janitor or dock worker wields the same level of influence that a VP, Director, or other upper-level manager does. It's not un-democratic; it's how they function.
Pre-Citizens United, all of those individuals, regardless of their status in said hierarchy, had the freedom to contribute collectively via employee PACS. And they did so, although the heavier contributions (naturally) came from those who could afford it. Furthermore, because each individual has statutory limitations on how much he/she may contribute, the FEC keeps a close eye on these PACs to make sure run-of-the-mill employees aren't used as pawns to funnel money from the wealthy to those they are trying to influence. It happens on both the Federal and State level, as we've seen here in North Carolina.
So: The freedom to take part; to have your contributory voice heard, as it were, was already there before the Supreme Court made its ruling. But what wasn't there, and what is already having a stifling effect on those voices, is the Court's decision to allow corporations to use funds from their general treasuries to advocate for or against a candidate.
The question likely on your lips is "where?". Where do those funds come from? The answer is: Everywhere. Revenues from commercial B2B transactions; revenues from the sale of real property; revenues from the sale of company stocks; revenues from investment portfolio gains. The list goes on and on. A virtually unlimited supply of money, with dozens of (legal) methods that would allow the funneling of cash from the wealthy straight into political campaigns, via the company's business structure.
But the most unsettling (for me) of the many revenue sources that can feed this beast are proceeds from retail sales. While it may be difficult to parse out what net proceeds find their way into general treasuries, current U.S. retail sales are hovering around 400 billion. Every month.
Thanks to this court decision, every time you stand at the checkout register and swipe your card (or scribble your check, if you're an anachronism like me), you may be helping or hurting a specific candidate in a political campaign. And even if you're astute as hell, following the behavior and inclinations of the corporations in question, you will likely be clueless just whom you're helping or hurting.
This is how your 1st Amendment freedoms are being lost. Someone else is using your voice, and you don't even know what's being said.