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The U.S. Supreme Court today, by a 5-4 vote, struck down Montana's 100-year-old ban on corporate election spending -- without even allowing full briefing or argument in the case. The decision reverses a Montana Supreme Court decision, which upheld the law due to the state's dramatic history of corruption.
In May, the Brennan Center submitted a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Court to uphold the law, and use the case to revisit the disastrous Citizens United ruling, which opened the door to unlimited spending in American elections. The brief, submitted on behalf of the Center and nine constitutional law professors in American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock, argued that Citizens United is untenable in light of the dominant role now being played in U.S. elections by super PACs and other outside groups.
"The 2012 elections make one thing clear: unlimited spending by super PACs and secretive nonprofits is corrupting our political process and threatens to swamp our democracy," said Adam Skaggs, senior counsel in the Brennan Center's Democracy Program. "Increasing numbers of Americans believe our government is bought and paid for by special interests and that their votes don't matter. By not taking this case, the Court missed a critical opportunity to rein in some of the worst excesses of Citizens United, and other rulings, that created this super PAC mess."
Montana banned corporate election spending for more than 100 years as a result of a dramatic history of efforts by big companies to capture the state government. The state of Montana compiled an extensive and powerful factual record that demonstrated how unlimited corporate spending previously held the state hostage to mining companies and still poses severe threats to Montana's elections and government. For the Court to strike down the state's anti-corruption law without even reviewing that record is a serious mistake.
By reversing the Montana court and not hearing the case, the Supreme Court also ensures that super PACs and other outside groups will continue to play a dominant role in U.S. elections.
In Citizens United, the Court said that, based on the facts before it, "independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption." Lower courts extended this decision, reasoning that if outside spending cannot lead to corruption, then there is no legitimate basis for restricting how much can be donated to outside groups. This created super PACs, which can accept unlimited donations from corporations, unions, and individuals, and then spend those funds to support specific candidates.
"Montana's experience, like considerable experience elsewhere since the Court's decision in Citizens United, casts grave doubt on the Court's supposition that independent expenditures do not corrupt or appear to do so," wrote Justice Stephen Breyer in dissent.
The substantial evidence compiled in recent months shows that significant outside spending, by super PACs and other groups, creates a very real risk of corruption and the appearance of corruption.
A few troubling examples:
Although the Court missed a chance to undo some of the damage caused by Citizens United, the Brennan Center will continue working to correct that mistake, partnering with legal scholars and others to develop policies that put voters back in charge of elections.
"To truly reform our elections, we must counter the power of big money in politics," said Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center. "We must adopt a small donor public financing system so that the voices of regular voters matter as much as fat-cat donors. We need to modernize voter registration to add more than 50 million eligible Americans to the rolls. And state and federal governments must pass disclosure laws to help guard against corruption that could result from political spending."
Read the Brennan Center's research on New York City's successful public financing system and our proposal to modernize voter registration. See our Election 2012 page for frequent updates on all voting rights and money in politics news.
"At a time when online mobilizations were one of the few forms of protest available to the public, Twitter was seemingly asked to shield the powerful from criticism," said one campaigner. "That should worry all those who care about accountability."
Drugmaker BioNTech and the German government pushed Twitter to "hide" posts by activists calling on Big Pharma to temporarily lift patents on Covid-19 vaccines—a move which would have given people the Global South greater access to the lifesaving inoculations, a report published Monday by The Intercept revealed.
Twitter lobbyist Nina Morschhaeuser "flagged the corporate accounts of Pfizer, BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca for her colleagues to monitor and shield from activists," according to The Intercept's Lee Fang. An email from Morschhaeuser said the German Federal Office for Information Security also contacted Twitter on behalf of BioNTech, whose spokesperson, Jasmina Alatovic, asked the social media giant to "hide" activist tweets targeting her company's account for two days.
Morschhaeuser, meanwhile, requested that colleagues track the hashtags #PeoplesVaccine—a movement for the temporary lifting of patent protections—and #JoinCTAP, a reference to the World Health Organization's Covid-19 Technology Access Pool. Morschhaeuser further warned that the advocacy group Global Justice Now shared an online signup form for a December 2020 People's Vaccine Day of Action.
"The allegations in this article suggest that government and industry tried to silence legitimate criticism during a crisis," Maaza Seyoum, Global South convener at the People's Vaccine Alliance, said in a statement Monday. "At a time when online mobilizations were one of the few forms of protest available to the public, Twitter was seemingly asked to shield the powerful from criticism. That should worry all those who care about accountability."
\u201c\ud83d\udce2 REACTION: German government and @BioNTech_Group asked Twitter to censor vaccine equity critics.\n\nNew #TwitterFiles piece by @lhfang shows how they worked to silence activists demanding a #PeoplesVaccine\n\nRead our reaction: https://t.co/VyaSBIbWnS\n\n1/\u201d— The People's Vaccine (@The People's Vaccine) 1673889107
Global Justice Now director Nick Dearden also noted the troubling timing of BioNTech's censorship request during a period of global pandemic lockdowns.
"To try and stifle digital dissent during a pandemic, when tweets and emails are some of the only forms of protest available to those locked in their homes, is deeply sinister," he told The Intercept.
It is not clear to what extent Twitter took any action on BioNTech's request. In response to Morschhaeuser's inquiry, several Twitter officials chimed in, debating what action could or could not be taken. Su Fern Teo, a member of the company's safety team, noted that a quick scan of the activist campaign showed nothing that violated the company's terms of service, and asked for more examples to "get a better sense of the content that may violate our policies."
But it shows the extent to which pharmaceutical giants engaged in a global lobbying blitz to ensure corporate dominance over the medical products that became central to combating the pandemic. Ultimately, the campaign to share Covid vaccine recipes around the world failed.
While U.S. President Joe Biden in 2021 heeded activists' calls and joined most of the Global South in backing a Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver at the World Trade Organization, most rich nations—including Germany—oppose the policy and have, along with Big Pharma, fought to thwart it.
"If the German government wants to show that it is now willing to side with public health over private profit, it must change its approach to pandemic response," Seyoum asserted. "That means backing efforts at the World Trade Organization to improve access to generic Covid-19 medicines and treatments, supporting the World Health Organization's mRNA Hub in South Africa, and standing up to corporate interests in negotiations over a Pandemic Treaty."
Critics rebuke U.S. climate envoy for calling Sultan al-Jaber a "terrific choice."
Progressives on Monday reacted with outrage and disbelief after U.S. climate envoy John Kerry backed the appointment of Sultan al-Jaber to lead the the United Nations' annual conference on the climate emergency, saying the CEO of the United Arab Emirates' state-run oil company was not only qualified to preside over the summit, but that his background strengthened the case for his presidency.
As Common Dreamsreported last week, the UAE named al-Jaber as president of the 28th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28), scheduled to begin in November—a decision that was met with scorn from campaigners as al-Jaber is heads the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) and a renewable energy firm in which ADNOC holds a 24% stake.
"I think that Dr. Sultan al-Jaber is a terrific choice because he is the head of the company. That company knows it needs to transition," Kerry told the Associated Press Sunday, despite the fact that scientists and advocates across the globe have also known for decades that policymakers must lead a rapid transition away from oil and gas-generated energy. "He knows—and the leadership of the UAE is committed to transitioning."
Advocates have warned that the UAE has not made clear how it plans to reach its stated goal of being carbon neutral by 2050, especially as it plans to increase production of crude oil by a million barrels per day.
The UAE is expected to become "the third largest expander of oil and gas production" between 2023 and 2025 as ADNOC embarks on the second-largest expansion of oil production of any company in the world, locking in more than 2.7 gigatonnes of CO2 emissions.
But when asked by Sky News Arabia about whether al-Jaber would have a conflict of interest at the conference, where leaders are expected to be pushed to take significant emissions-reduction steps, Kerry dismissed the concern.
"That's a first blush, very simplistic way to look at this," Kerry said, adding that "the only way we will meet this crisis and protect our citizens and build an economy for the future, is by reducing emissions."
Putting the ADNOC executive—who is also the UAE's climate enjoy and minister of industry and technology—in charge of COP28 drew comparisons from Progressive International leader Yanis Varoufaki to naming "a jihadist to oversee religious tolerance" or "a Nazi to oversee racial harmony."
"What could go wrong?" labor historian Erik Loomis asked sardonically.
\u201cJeffrey Dahmer placed to oversee anti-cannibalism commission. \n\nhttps://t.co/D7Yyz2MMAw\u201d— Erik Loomis (@Erik Loomis) 1673888060
COP28 will follow the two most recent international climate conferences, held in Glasgow, Scotland and Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, where hundreds of fossil fuel lobbyists were in attendance and policymakers failed to hammer out a final agreement requiring countries to phase out oil, coal, and gas extraction.
Kerry toldSky News Arabia that the UAE was not "involved in changing" the outcome of the COP26 and COP27 talks.
The former secretary of state acknowledged that there would be "a level of scrutiny" aimed at al-Jaber's appointment.
"And I think that's going to be very constructive," he told the AP. "It's going to help people, you know, stay on the line here. I think this is a time, a new time of accountability."
Acknowledging Kerry's negotiating of the Paris climate agreement in 2015—which despite its many flaws and shortcomings represents the strongest global pact ever reached on the issue—Leo Roberts of the climate think tank E3G said on social media that the U.S. politician's endorsement of el-Jaber represents "a really rather spectacular fall from grace."
"I am Ayuso's plan for the emergency ward," said one demonstrator dressed as the Grim Reaper.
Tens of thousands marched in Madrid, Spain on Sunday to stop the right-wing regional government's ongoing attack on the public healthcare system.
"Cutting public health is criminal!" demonstrators chanted as they held placards against the push for privatization and cuts.
\u201cTens of thousands of health workers took to the streets of Madrid on Sunday to lodge their protests against what they consider an erosion of public health infrastructure.\n\nhttps://t.co/asGkvSgAle\u201d— DW Europe (@DW Europe) 1673869377
According to the Associated Press:
Carrying homemade signs with slogans that translated into English as "S.O.S. Public Healthcare" snd "Stop Privatization," the marchers clamored against staff shortages and criticized what they consider the favoritism shown by regional authorities toward private health care providers.
The event was the latest in a series of protest actions, including strikes, by Madrid’s public health workers against the capital region’s government, which is led by Popular Party heavyweight Isabel Ayuso.
The unions that organized Sunday's demonstration said Madrid spends the least amount per capita on primary health care of any Spanish region even though it has the highest per capita income. They claim that for every 2 euros spent on health care in Madrid, one ends up in the private sector.
"We have about 40 or 50 patients per day and can give them about six minutes each," Ana Encinas, a doctor who has worked in primary care in the nation's capital for 37 years, toldReuters. "The problem is that they do not allow us to give proper care to patients."
One protester in the crowd—led by doctors, nurses, labor groups, and other defenders of public health—was dressed as the Grim Reaper and held a sign that said: "I am Ayuso's plan for the emergency ward."