“It” is overturning the U.S. Supreme Court’s dreadful Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling. The decision, which marked its second anniversary last month, undid nearly a century’s worth of campaign finance regulation in the United States.
In a 5-4 split, the high court overturned a lower court’s ruling and removed existing restraints on corporations, allowing them to spend unlimited amounts of money in political campaigns as long as they were independent expenditures and not coordinated with individual campaigns.
The ruling essentially equated the spending of money with free speech and said corporations are entitled to the same free speech rights as individuals. (For supposed “constitutional originalists,” Justice Antonin Scalia and his conservative cronies sure do like to stretch legal boundaries when it suits them.)
Here’s what Thomas Jefferson said in 1816, about seven years after he left the Oval Office: “I hope that we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”
Sorry, Mr. Jefferson. I have some bad news for you.
The Citizens United decision gave rise to the “super PAC,” a new form of political action committee (PAC).
Super PACs are “independent-expenditure only committees” that can raise unlimited sums from corporations, unions and other groups. They cannot coordinate their efforts directly with candidates or political parties since they are “independent.”
Further, although super PACs are required to disclose their donors, they can exploit a loophole in the filing requirements to postpone disclosure until after the elections in which they’re active.
Of course, the distinction about being independent is mostly a theoretical one. Super PACs can and do communicate with candidates indirectly, either through the media or surrogates. And the super PACs often are managed by the candidate’s friends or business associates.
For example, as noted by ABC News’ Jonathan Karl, “(Mitt) Romney’s super PAC … is run by his former top lawyer, with much of the money coming from his colleagues at Bain Capital. Rick Perry’s super PAC is run by his former chief of staff.”
Do you really think none of these folks relay messages to one another over cocktails at the country club?
During the 2010 mid-term elections, the first elections in which the super PACs had a role, they spent a total of $62.7 million on items like TV advertisements, mailers, radio ads, telephone banks and door-to-door canvassing, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Of that amount, liberal-leaning super PACs spent about $28 million, while conservative-leaning super PACs spent about $34.7 million.
Of the latter amount, a whopping $21.6 million was spent by American Crossroads, the super-PAC connected to Karl Rove, the shady political strategist that George W. Bush famously dubbed “turd blossom.”
Overall, conservative groups spend $1.24 for every $1 spent by liberal groups, the center reported.
As of Jan. 31, 302 groups have organized as super PACs for the 2012 election cycle, the center said. They have reported total receipts of $34.6 million so far and total spending of $44.9 million. Experts believe close to $3 billion will have been spent by the time the election is over.
The spigot is turned on, and our political system is being flooded with tainted water.
Despite multiple polls showing that Americans of all political persuasions want the Citizens United ruling overturned, most politicians aren’t lifting a finger to do so. In fact, some conservatives are actually defending the decision.
So, what can the average person do to fight the ruling and reclaim democracy? Plenty, as it turns out.
There are multiple efforts afoot to turn the tide. Chief among them is the Saving American Democracy Amendment, filed Dec. 8 in the Senate by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). It makes clear that the rights enshrined in the Constitution are only for natural persons, not human-created entities like corporations. Also it reaffirms the ability of Congress and the states to enact campaign finance laws that limit the amount of money individuals can spend to influence elections.
“Corporations are not people with constitutional rights. They are for-profit entities established for business purposes,” Sanders has said.
Any proposed amendment submitted by Congress must be approved by a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate in order to be submitted for consideration by the states. Ratification by three-fourths of the states is required to amend the Constitution.
Yes, that’s a tough process, but there are other efforts also being mounted.
Move to Amend, a nonprofit organization that consists of groups like the Liberty Tree Foundation, the Black Agenda Report and the National Lawyers Guild, is circulating its own proposed amendment. It states that artificial entities such as corporations, limited liability companies and other entities established by the laws of any state, the United States or any foreign nation have no rights under the U.S. Constitution and are subject to regulation by the people. Also, it allows federal, state and local governments to regulate, limit or prohibit contributions and expenditures.
More than 165,000 people have signed Move to Amend’s online petition urging passage.
Move to Amend’s measure goes farther than Sanders' , and includes not-for-profit entities and labor unions.
There also are other amendment proposals including ones introduced by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and others; one by U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Ma.); and one by U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.).
It would make more sense for this nascent movement to coalesce around one proposal to increase its chance for success. No matter which proposal becomes the dominant one, however, something must be done.
There is little doubt that money can buy access and influence with politicians, whether they admit it or not. The implications of that statement are frightening.
As journalist and author Bill Moyers succinctly put it, “If money is speech, no money means no speech.”