The Guest Blog

Whatever Happened to One Person-One Vote?

William Dunkelberg, Economics Professor, Temple University

"You can speak to me, but you can't speak for me" — Professor of Economics Kenneth Boulding

The Supreme Court’s decision to treat business entities as “people” has fired up political pundits and lobbyists on all sides.

Corporate political support since 1990 has exceeded union political support by a margin of 3 to 1. But, corporate political support has been evenly divided between the two parties while union support has favored the Democrats 9 to 1. There is a lot of money at stake and many state or even local elections might be disproportionately impacted by the unrestricted entry of union and corporate funds into the political fray. The potential impact of differential access to money even haunts the issue of individual rights to participate in an election. Some individuals have much more money than others and can swamp the voices of many less wealthy individuals and thus we cap the amount of giving for individuals.

My concern is bit different and arises from an issue I raised in a commentary years ago about corporate support for such things as the local ballet or symphony.

In most cities, large businesses including utilities are major supporters of cultural events. This certainly assists them in presenting various cultural events, but a very very small and often wealthy percentage of the city’s residents attend these events. The CEOs of these companies get red carpet treatment for their donations of what would otherwise be profits for shareholders or lower utility rates for users. I have yet to receive an invitation to the opera box for my utility’s support of their activities for my 25 years of contributions through my energy bills. My utility rates are higher than need be to support these civic activities. As the provider of the funds for this largess, I was never asked which cultural or charitable events I wished to support. It was the CEOs who chose and who got the credit for their largess.

Political support by corporations and unions presents the same problem.

The funds used by the CEOs of these organizations are provided by customers or union members. But for the most part, those providing the funds have no say in how the funds are disbursed. It is unlikely that 100 percent of union members support a candidate that the union boss chooses. Similarly, it is unlikely that shareholders and rate payers agree with the political choices of CEOs. And rarely do we check to see if shareholders and rate payers might prefer not to donate at all, enjoying higher earnings per share and lower utility rates instead.

Personally, I guess I like the “one person, one vote” concept, which would mean no corporate or union money and limited contributions from individuals with a lot of money. The amount of money spent on elections has grown to absurd levels, the “rich” are advantaged in running for office. OK, I’m an idealist, but I would like to know that my vote was as valuable as any other and was not washed out by the money multiplier.

Meantime, I am still waiting for my invitation to the ballet recognizing my decades of financial support.

William Dunkelberg is an Economic Strategist, Boenning & Scattergood and Chief Economist, National Federation of Independent Business, Professor of Economics and former Dean, School of Business, Temple University