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Public Citizen Urges Public Outcry, Launches Web Campaign In Advance of Pivotal Campaign Finance Case

U.S. Supreme Court May Open Floodgates, Allow Corporate Cash to Swamp Elections

WASHINGTON -  Public Citizen today launched a campaign designed
to draw attention to the potentially monumental consequences of a case
the U.S. Supreme Court will rehear Sept. 9. The justices are using the
case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, to reconsider -
and possibly roll back - a century’s worth of legal precedents designed
to curb corporate influence over federal elections.

The court heard the case during its last term, but in a stunning
move, said in late June that it would rehear it and simultaneously
reconsider two previous landmark campaign finance cases, Austin v.
Michigan Chamber of Commerce and McConnell v. Federal Election
Commission. In other words, the Supreme Court has transformed a case
that posed a limited challenge to the McCain-Feingold law into a
sweeping challenge to a century-old pillar of campaign finance
doctrine: restrictions on direct corporate and union financing of
candidate campaigns. 

“Overturning these well-established laws would turn our elections
into free-for-alls with massive corporate and union spending, and would
make officeholders beholden to the deep pockets that promote them,”
said David Arkush, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch
division. “Corporate influence would likely be strengthened over all
policy decisions - on health care reform, climate change, trade -
everything. The public would be further shut out of its own government.”

For that reason, Public Citizen is launching a “Don’t Get Rolled”
campaign to organize protests on the day of the re-argument and beyond.
citizens sign the “Pledge to Protest” indicating they will take action
on Sept. 9 to raise awareness of the main potential ramification of the
case: that corporations would get a license to steamroll citizens. At,
people can find suggestions for actions to take such as spreading the
word through video, e-mail or blogging, or hitting the streets with a
traditional picket or street theater.

The site provides background information, history and solutions to
curbing the influence of money in politics, and recommends a variety of
communication tools voters can use to let others know that the Supreme
Court should provide voters with more - not less - protection from
wealthy corporate interests.

“Clearly, now is not the time to give Wall Street and big
corporations more power in Washington,” said Angela Canterbury, an
advocacy director at Public Citizen. “We have already received a lot of
enthusiasm from people all over the country who want to do something to
protest more corporate money and influence in politics. We hope the
campaign will encourage everyone who cares about the democratic process
and retaining our hard-won campaign finance reforms to get involved.”


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The Citizens United case started out as a controversy over the
application of the McCain-Feingold law to a film about 2008 Democratic
presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, titled “Hillary: The Movie.”
The film, produced by a right-wing group called Citizens United, which
accepts corporate funds, is a non-stop attack on Hillary Clinton’s
fitness for office.

Citizens United planned to show the movie through on-demand
satellite transmissions and to run TV ads promoting it in areas where
then-Sen. Clinton was on primary election ballots. Both the satellite
transmissions and the ads would fall under the McCain-Feingold law’s
definition of “electioneering communications.” The satellite
transmissions would be subject to restrictions on who could pay for
them that would forbid use of corporate or union funds, and both the
transmissions and the ads would be subject to funding disclosure
requirements. (McCain-Feingold refers to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform
Act of 2002.)

In 2007, Citizens United sued, challenging the constitutionality of
the law’s provisions governing disclosure and funding of
“electioneering communications.” The U.S. District Court for the
District of Columbia denied Citizens United’s request that the court
prevent the FEC from enforcing the law. The court later dismissed
Citizens United’s lawsuit, and Citizens United petitioned the Supreme
Court to hear the case.

For a century, the Supreme Court has recognized that the large sums
of money corporations and unions can tap into to influence elections
can corrupt our political process, so the justices generally have
granted deference to Congress when it restricts corporate campaign
contributions and expenditures. In past rulings, the court has
recognized that the wealth of corporations and unions, when used to
affect candidate elections, could have “untoward consequences for the
democratic process.” The court has defended Congress’s efforts to
protect the electoral process “from what it deemed to be the corroding
effect of money employed in elections by aggregated power.” 

Note: Public Citizen’s Scott Nelson is one of the attorneys
representing the key congressional sponsors of the McCain-Feingold law
and co-authored their amicus brief, available HERE.


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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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