Do independent expenditures by entities, such as corporations, create corruption or even the appearance of corruption thus diluting the people’s ability to control government? The majority of the Supreme Court answered the question in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling with an emphatic “No.”
What this ruling did, in effect, is give corporations much of the same rights to political speech as individuals. It means that virtually all restrictions on corporate money in politics have been removed. In a Slate article, titled The Numbers Don’t Lie, Richard L. Hasen, a leading expert on campaign finance and professor at the University of California at Irvine stated, “after Citizens United, the courts . . . and the FEC [Federal Elections Committee] provided a green light for super PACS to collect unlimited sums from individuals, labor unions, and corporations for unlimited independent spending. The theory was that, per Citizens United, if independent spending cannot corrupt, then contributions to fund independent spending cannot corrupt either. . . . So what was once questionable legality before the court’s decision was fully blessed after Citizens United.”
This summer the Supreme Court had an opportunity to take another look at the Citizen’s United ruling and declined. The Montana Supreme Court upheld the state’s 1912 Corrupt Practices Act limiting independent political spending by corporations. In a 5-4 ruling the U.S. Supreme Court voted to summarily dismiss the Montana case without oral arguments.
Montana’s Attorney General, Steven Bullock, argued that overturning the Corrupt Practices Act would “make our political process unrecognizable.” He provided instances of not just the appearance of corruption, but actual corruption caused by this type of spending in the case. Montana’s Supreme Court held in Tradition Partnership v. Bullock that the ban on such funding in Montana state elections was constitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision to not hear the case, unfortunately, proffered no rebuttal to the facts presented by Mr. Bullock and appears to have shut out the possibility of Citizens United being overturned by the current Supreme Court.
Is there anything we can do to change this unfortunate precedent? Well, yes, there is a grass roots movement to support a constitutional amendment! The amendment, banning independent expenditures by special interest groups, has already been introduced in Congress. Free Speech for People is helping organize efforts amongst concerned citizens to stir municipalities and other local governmental entities to call for Congress and states to act. Their site provides an opportunity to sign a petition supporting H.J. Res. 88, a bi-partisan Congressional resolution that will amend the Constitution and overturn the Citizens United ruling. The organization also provides resources to help you promote this amendment in your local and state governments.
The amendment process will eventually require ratification by2/3rds of the states and this grassroots effort helps to inform the electorate of the Amendment and gives representatives notification of what the People want. According to a survey of 1,000 likely voters, 62 percent of all voters oppose the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. In a poll conducted by Free Speech for People 82 percent of independent voters, 68 percent of Republican voters, and 87 percent of Democratic voters support the amendment. This isn’t a political issue, this is voter’s rights issue, as Citizens United has allowed special interests to supplant the power of our founding principle of “one man, one vote” with the idea of “more money, more influence.”
For further reading, Corporations Are Not People, by Jeffrey D. Clements, and Republic Lost, by Lawrence Lessig, provide a thorough overview of the problem and its effect on our country. Also, the nationally-recognized expert in election law and campaign finance regulation, Professor Richard Hasen, will be joining the American Constitution Society for an event on Monday, October 22nd at noon. Professor Hasen will be joining us via Skype and UNC Charlotte Professor of Political Science, Martha Kropf, will be on campus.
The time to act is now. If you are interested in becoming part of this movement, please email Brandy Hagler, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Cleat Walters III, email@example.com for more information.
By Cleat Walters III and Brandy Hagler