Marco Rubio almost let it slip to gun-violence survivors that, to save America, they have to fight something bigger than the NRA

Cameron Kasky a junior at Marjorie Douglas Sherman High, CNN's Jake Tapper and Marco Rubio

Cameron Kasky a junior at Marjorie Douglas Sherman High, CNN’s Jake Tapper and Marco Rubio

  • In an exchange with the a survivor of the Florida high school shooting, Sen. Marco Rubio almost revealed that to end gun violence, they’ll have to get to the root of Washington corruption.
  • That root is Citizens United, which equates corporate money with First Amendment protected individual speech.
  • The Citizens United ruling is wrong because while people are incentivized to live happy, healthy lives, corporations are incentivized to sell.

At a town hall with survivors of gun violence on Wednesday night, Sen. Marco Rubio came close to giving up the entire key to ending corruption in Washington – to letting in on the secret the eager, hurting teenagers appealing to the nation for sense on gun violence.

But instead he kept his cool. He spoke in jargon. He toed the party line.

It all happened in a brief exchange with Cameron Kasky, a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida where 17 people were gunned down earlier this month.

The part of the exchance that garnered the most attention was when Rubio simply refused to say he would no longer take money from the NRA, arguing that those donors then adopted his policies (not likely – try asking Smith and Wesson about the finer points of Marco Rubio’s immigration agenda).

But what really caught my eye was the end of the clip posted below, Kasky offered to raise the money to replace Rubio’s NRA donations.

And Rubio said: “Well you’re right about that, there’s money on both sides and where that leaves in policymaking is to look at the issues and make a decisions based on what we think is right. But ultimately, the First Amendment is just as important as the Second.”

And that’s where Rubio almost gave up the game. Kasky might be able to raise a lot of money for him, but it could never be as much as the millions corporations, like gun manufacturers, could hand to him. Since we decided through Citizens United that corporations are people too, Rubio gets to conveniently say that gun manufacturers have the same right to “speech” as Americans who were born, want to raise families, want to get jobs, want to buy homes.

People like Kasky’s incentive to be in politics is to find the best way to live.

A gun manufacturer’s incentive in politics is to find the best ways to sell. It is the same for all corporations.

I wrote “speech,” by the way, because what we’ve done through Citizens United is equate speech with money. And while one human with the right voice and the right platform (as these survivors have shown us) can speak just as loudly as any other, there are vast differences between those who can and cannot throw their money around.

What Rubio should’ve done was explain this to Kasky, and tell him that we decided a few years ago that corporations are people, too. That they have the same rights as a living, breathing person, but much more power and money and status.

If they didn’t, drones from Washington wouldn’t be talking about murdered people in meaningless platitudes. Congressmen wouldn’t addicted to checks from a lobby that cares only about making sure there as many weapons in the hands of Americans as possible. And if there was real respect for the First Amendment on this issue and not corporate power, we wouldn’t see things like this:

Lets talk about where the NRA gets its ‘speech’

Kate Folmar, a spokeswoman for Everytown for Gun Safety, the group backed by Michael Bloomberg, told me last year that the NRA’s purposes has “shifted over the years from an organization that once represented sportsmen and hunters to what it is now: the gun lobby that represents manufacturers.”

So it’s the manufacturers who are speaking here – manufacturers who, again, are not only incentivized to preserve gun culture but also to sell as many guns as possible. It’s hard to see their fingerprints on this stuff, though. The NRA has a PAC, called the NRA Political Victory Fund. According to government filings, in 2015 that fund got $9.7 million from undisclosed donors. None of that money was the NRA’s, and the money didn’t pass through the NRA – it just raised all of the money.

So when you go to the organization’s OpenSecrets page, you’ll learn that the organization only gives to Republicans, and you’ll see that there are names of American NRA donors who’ve given $5,000 here or $1,200 there. But understand, that’s barely scratching the surface. There’s a whole pile of dark money being raised by the NRA through its Political Victory Fund, and while we can’t know for sure where it’s coming from, we can take a very educated guess.

There are also more transparent ways the NRA makes money from manufacturers and gun accessory makers. Crimson Trace, a company that makes laser sites for guns, donates $20 to the NRA’s firearm and marksmanship training endowment for each product purchased.

Manufacturers can also contribute to the NRA by using its “program services.” In 2015, the NRA made 53.5% (around $180 million) of its revenue through its regular business, only 28% came from donations (remember, this does not include the PAC money). An example of a NRA “program service” gunmakers would use is advertising in NRA publications, for example.

If that sounds confusing and murky to you that’s because it is. It was designed that way so we, Americans, know less. That makes us less powerful.

It wasn’t always this way, so it doesn’t have to stay this way

Americans used to generally agree that giving companies the right to bankroll political campaigns would result in an imbalance of power. Until the late 1970s – just when neoclassical theory was taking hold of political thought – courts upheld a 1907 Roosevelt (Teddy) administration-era ruling against corporate involvement in politics.

That ended in 1978 when the Supreme Court ruled in First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti that corporations have a First Amendment right to free speech, and as such could spend money on state ballot initiatives. Finally, in 2010, the Supreme Court took that free speech idea to another level, and gave corporations the right to spend money on campaigns just like people.

The problem with this logic, of course, is that unlike people, corporations don’t die of natural causes. In fact, they don’t ever have to die at all. As such, they don’t care much for the living.

In no organization is that more clear than the corporate collective that is the NRA, whose laughable solution to gun violence in schools is to put more guns in schools. Of course the manufacturers love this – it means they sell more guns. Nothing could make the NRA’s clients happier.

To be tragically fair, I should note that gun manufacturers aren’t the only ones who throw their weight around Washington to sometimes deadly effect. Consider pharmaceutical companies, which have come under fire for exorbitant pricing. For years they’ve insisted that the astronomical sums they charge Americans were a subsidy for research and for lower drug prices around the rest of the world.

But that’s all nonsense. And some politicians know that.

Last year, at a meeting of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, powerless Democrats listened as experts outlined ways to control costs that seemed fairly simple but are actually fairly insurmountable in our current system in which pharma money talks louder than any congressional expert witness. The meeting was about curbing the rising cost of prescription drugs.

It was a frustrating session. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, sounded exasperated. He said the Senate could solve drug pricing “in a week” if it weren’t for the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling on campaign spending – the pharmaceutical industry has spent billions of dollars lobbying Congress to keep this system opaque.

Whitehouse thinks billions might be overkill.

“We tend to come cheaper than that,” he said, disgusted.