Shed a Tear for Democracy: Supreme Court’s Citizens United Will Unleash Flood of Corporate Money in Elections; Public Citizen Calls for Constitutional Amendment to Reverse Decision

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Shed a Tear for Democracy: Supreme Court’s Citizens United Will Unleash Flood of Corporate Money in Elections; Public Citizen Calls for Constitutional Amendment to Reverse Decision

Statement of Robert Weissman, President, Public Citizen

WASHINGTON - Note: Public Citizen played a key role in the Citizens United
case; Public Citizen attorney Scott Nelson was a member of the legal
team that represented the key congressional sponsors of the
McCain-Feingold law.

Shed a tear for our democracy.

Today, in the case Citizens United v. FEC, the U.S. Supreme Court
has ruled that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend
unlimited amounts of money to influence election outcomes.

Money from Exxon, Goldman Sachs, Pfizer and the rest of the Fortune
500 is already corroding the policy making process in Washington, state
capitals and city halls. Today, the Supreme Court tells these corporate
giants that they have a constitutional right to trample our democracy.

 In eviscerating longstanding rules prohibiting corporations from
using their own monies to influence elections, the court invites giant
corporations to open up their treasuries to buy election outcomes.
Corporations are sure to accept the invitation.

 The predictable result will be corporate money flooding the
election process; huge targeted campaigns by corporations and their
front groups attacking principled candidates who challenge parochial
corporate interests; and a chilling effect on candidates and election
officials, who will be deterred from advocating and implementing
policies that advance the public interest but injure deep-pocket
corporations.

 Because today's decision is made on First Amendment constitutional
grounds, the impact will be felt not only at the federal level, but in
the states and localities, including in state judicial elections.

 In one sense, today's decision was a long time in coming. Over the
past 30 years, the Supreme Court has created and steadily expanded the
First Amendment protections that it has afforded for-profit
corporations.

 But in another sense, the decision is a startling break from
Supreme Court tradition. Even as it has mistakenly equated money with
speech in the political context, the court has long upheld regulations
on corporate spending in the electoral context. The Citizens United
decision is also an astonishing overreach by the court. No one thought
the issue of corporations' purported right to spend money to influence
election outcomes was at stake in this case until the Supreme Court so
decreed. The case had been argued in lower courts, and was originally
argued before the Supreme Court, on narrow grounds related to
application of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.

 The court has invented the idea that corporations have First
Amendment rights to influence election outcomes out of whole cloth.
There is surely no originalist interpretation to support this outcome,
since the court created the rights only in recent decades. Nor can the
outcome be justified in light of the underlying purpose and spirit of
the First Amendment. Corporations are state-created entities, not real
people. They do not have expressive interests like humans; and, unlike
humans, they are uniquely motivated by a singular focus on their
economic bottom line. Corporate spending on elections defeats rather
than advances the democratic thrust of the First Amendment.

 We, the People cannot allow this decision to go unchallenged. We,
the People cannot allow corporations to take control of our democracy.

 Public Citizen is going to do everything we can to mitigate the
damage from today's decision, and to overturn this misguided ruling.

First, we must have public financing of elections. Public financing
will give independent candidates a base from which they may be able to
compete against candidates benefiting from corporate expenditures. We
will intensify our efforts to win rapid passage of the Fair Elections
Now Act, which would provide congressional candidates with an
alternative to corporate-funded campaigns before fundraising for the
2010 election is in full swing. Sponsored by Sen. Richard Durbin
(D.-Ill.) and Rep. John Larson (D.-Conn.), the bill would encourage
unlimited small-dollar donations from individuals and provide
candidates with public funding in exchange for refusing corporate
contributions or private contributions in amounts of more than $100.
The proposal has broad support, including more than 110 co-sponsors in
the House.

In the wake of the court's decision, it is also essential that the
presidential public financing system be made viable again. Cities and
states will also need to enact public financing of elections.

Second, we will urge Congress to ensure that corporate CEOs do not
use corporate funds for political purposes, against the wishes of
shareholders. We will support legislation requiring an absolute
majority of shares to be voted in favor, before any corporate political
expenditure is permitted.

These mitigating measures will not be enough to offset today's decision, however. The decision itself must be overturned.

Public Citizen will aggressively work in support of a constitutional
amendment specifying that for-profit corporations are not entitled to
First Amendment protections, except for freedom of the press. We do not
lightly call for a constitutional amendment. But today's decision so
imperils our democratic well-being, and so severely distorts the
rightful purpose of the First Amendment, that a constitutional
corrective is demanded.

We are formulating language for possible amendments, asking members
of the public to sign a petition to affirm their support for the idea
of constitutional change, and planning to convene leading thinkers in
the areas of constitutional law and corporate accountability to begin a
series of in-depth conversations about winning a constitutional
amendment.

The Supreme Court has lost its way today. Democracy is rule of the
people - real, live humans, not artificial entity corporations. Now
it's time for the people to reassert their rights.

 

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Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 to represent consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts.

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