JCU's Institute in International Communication Debates Politics, Money and Social Media

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On Wednesday, July 11, students, faculty and alumni came together to debate the role of money in enhancing and distorting political communication, in the first of the JCU Institute in International Communication‘s Summer 2012 series of events, titled “Politics and Money: How money matters but how social media may subvert this (or not!)”

Mike Russo (St. Mary’s College) moderated, asking “why is it so expensive to gain the votes of the general public?” and “why is money thought to be directly correlated to results in politics?”. Kevin Johnson (CSU Long Beach) discussed the case of Montana, where the Copper Kings once provided unlimited financing to political campaigns, enabling them to buy legislators and judges. This political corruption led to the 1912 law banning unlimited corporate expenditure to influence elections, which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down in June 2012. Prof. Johnson discussed the Citizens United case, reopening the doors for unlimited political contributions, notwithstanding the risk of corruption. Asking how democratic values can be preserved in an environment where corporations can spend unlimitedly to influence elections and elected officials, Prof. Johnson put forward some policies for the students to consider: requiring shareholders to explicitly state corporate financing, exploring multinational corporations’ financing, requiring free air time for candidates to reach the public, and maybe even amending the constitution.

Gabriele Cosentino (JCU) presented the comedian Stephen Colbert’s Super PAC, “Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow”. Making reference to Super PACs’ reliance on negative advertisement of candidates and their failure to disclose financing and expenditures until after the elections, Prof. Cosentino stated how Super PACs are “100% legal and 10% ethical”. Colbert was able to establish a nonprofit organization, which donated to his Super PAC, lobbied for legislation, participated in political campaigns, and was able to legally obtain unlimited funds from anonymous donors, in a kind of legal money laundering. Showing examples of Super PAC satirical advertising, Prof. Cosentino asked the audience to consider that, in the post-modern environment of overlapping discursive domains, entertainment functions as alternative journalism and activism; parody has an important political function.

Jennifer Asenas (CSU Long Beach) started by asking “what happens when you don’t have any money?”. Prof. Asenas presented some alternatives, starting with the example of 1998 MoveOn community gatherings around the U.S., while President Clinton was in office, organized through email alerts sent to the citizens and aimed at political change. Another alternative to money, Prof. Asenas claimed, are social media. She supported this with the example of the political movements produced by social networks during the Arab Spring and the Facebook mobilization for Planned Parenthood, which was able to obtain unprecedented donations and to continue financing anti-cancer campaigns. Prof. Asenas finally cited the most viral video in YouTube’s history, Kony 2012 from Invisible Children. She asked “what kind of political actor are online communities?”, “is this politics really any different?”, and “is this a legitimate mean to change the way we organize our society?”

A lively discussion between students and panelists followed, with wine and cheese on the Secchia Terrace.