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September 10, 2009


Robert Weissman, Common Dreams - Can things get still worse in Washington? Yes, they can. And they will, if the Supreme Court decides for corporations and against real human beings and their democracy in a case the Court will be hearing today, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Until reaching the Supreme Court last year, this case has involved a narrow issue about whether an anti-Hillary Clinton movie made in the heat of the last presidential election is covered by restrictions in the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. However, in a highly unusual move announced on the last day of the Supreme Court's 2008 term, the justices announced they wanted to reconsider two other pivotal decisions that limit the role of corporate money in politics.

The Court [is hearing] argument on whether prior decisions blocking corporations from spending their money on "independent expenditures" for electoral candidates should be overturned. "Independent expenditures" are funds spent without coordination with a candidate's campaign. The rationale for such a move would be that existing rules interfere with corporations' First Amendment rights to free speech.

Overturning the court's precedents on corporate election expenditures would be nothing short of a disaster. Corporations already dominate our political process -- through political action committees, fundraisers, high-paid lobbyists and personal contributions by corporate insiders, often bundled together to increase their impact, threats to move jobs abroad and more.

On the dominant issues of the day -- climate change, health care and financial regulation -- corporate interests are leveraging their political investments to sidetrack vital measures to protect the planet, expand health care coverage while controlling costs, and prevent future financial meltdowns. . .

Yet the Supreme Court may actually roll back the limits on corporate electoral spending now in place. These limits are very inadequate, but they do block unlimited spending from corporate treasuries to influence election outcomes. Rolling back those limits will unleash corporations to ramp up their spending still further, with a potentially decisive chilling effect on candidates critical of the Chamber of Commerce agenda.

The damage will be double, because a Court ruling on constitutional grounds would effectively overturn the laws in place in two dozen states similarly barring corporate expenditures on elections.

More than 100 years ago, reacting to what many now call the First Gilded Age, Congress acted to prohibit direct corporate donations to electoral candidates. Corporate expenditures in electoral races have been prohibited for more than 60 years.

Although the signs aren't good, there is no certainty how the Court will decide Citizens United. There is some hope that the Court will decide that it is inappropriate to roll back such longstanding and important campaign finance rules, in a case where the issue was not presented in the lower courts, and where the litigants' dispute can be decided on much narrower grounds.

Robert Weissman is president of Public Citizen. Public Citizen attorney Scott Nelson serves as counsel to the original sponsors of the McCain-Feingold law, who have filed an amicus brief in the case, asking that existing restrictions on corporate election expenditures be maintained.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Constitution does not say that corporations, or any other sort of chartered group, are citizens of the United States. It does not say that citizenship rights can be handed over to corporations by either Congress or the courts.

Sadly, the very first Supreme Court almost immediately abandoned all but the pretense of basing their decisions on that document with their embrace of "implied powers". With the passage of time the situation has only gotten worse.

I think it should be obvious that a corporation cannot be considered a citizen for any purpose because a corporation cannot go to the polls and cast a vote like all real citizens are permitted to do. In fact, the original Constitution did not actually make women citizens. That required an amendment. Shouldn't it also have required an amendment to magically turn businesses into citizens?

September 10, 2009 1:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...



There oughta be a Law...

September 10, 2009 4:08 PM  
Anonymous m said...

One of the situations where there are no good or easy answers. But it makes an excellent argument for absolute public financing for campaigns.

There are things that you should not be able to do with money. Most would agree that you can't buy another person, nor pay another to kill a third. No person or artificial person should be permitted to give money or goods to an elected official. Not to the person, not to his campaign.

September 12, 2009 1:21 PM  

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