The Citizens United ruling shows we must amend the U.S. Constitution
Our destiny – our laws and public policy – should be determined by people and the public interest — not by Wall Street banks and global corporations and their private interest.
In the Citizens United ruling (January 2010), the Supreme Court said that corporations have the same rights as persons to free speech, including political speech. This allows corporate entities to spend unlimited amounts to influence election outcomes and lawmaking. And they are doing it.
“One-person, one-vote” becomes “one-dollar, one-vote” — because of the power of money to purchase media, to influence election outcomes, and to influence laws with expensive lobbying.
- Corporate influence in Congress is why Wall Street banks got big bailouts and bonuses.
- It’s why health care insurance premiums keep rising and prescription drugs cost so much.
- It’s why oil dominates our energy policy -and why corporate farms and food additives dominate our food supply.
- And it’s why factories are closed when global corporate owners can make more profit overseas – regardless of the impact on local communities and families.
Can Congress overturn Citizens United by law?
No. When the Supreme Court declares a law unconstitutional, as they did in Citizens United, that takes precedence over any law or act of Congress.
Congress can try to bandage the damage within the scope of the Supreme Court ruling. But so long as corporate wealth shares power equally with people – protected as “free speech” through court rulings – campaigns, elections and lawmaking itself will be auctions, “for sale” to the highest bidder.
Public financing for campaigns would partially offset the power of private wealth. But only an amendment to the constitution is durable as “the final word” to protect American democracy.
Can states take action to limit undue corporate influence?
States can amend their constitutions to prevent undue influence by wealthy donors and political speech by global corporations. And they should. Corporate charters granted by states can specify what a corporation is allowed to do. Some states and local cities are passing laws that limit corporate activity to the economic sphere only, and prohibiting corporations from engaging in political electioneering.
But such state laws might be overruled by the U.S. Supreme Court – using the same reasoning as in the Citizens United ruling – unless the Constitution is amended.
Constitutional amendments have been done before
In 1971, the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted by 3/4ths of the states – within four months! — giving voting rights to anyone 18 or older. It was motivated by popular uprising resulting from the Vietnam War era: “If I’m old enough to be drafted, I’m old enough to vote!”
Boston Tea Party (1773) — a response to undue corporate influence
Our nation’s founding began when the American colonies rose up against a corporate monopoly. The East India Tea Company used their wealth and power in the British Parliament to achieve tax preferences on imported tea – undercutting local business in the American colonies. In effect, this “WalMart-ization” of the tea trade led to the 1776 Declaration of Independence and the great American experiment in democracy.
Now, two centuries later, we have global corporations exercising their wealth and muscle in our democracy. It’s time once again to reclaim the vision and promises of our nations’ founding – and to amend the constitution to spell it out. People – not corporations, and not wealth and privilege – should determine our nation’s destiny!
And we must amend the U.S. Constitution to clearly say so.
Craig Salins is Executive Director of Washington Public Campaigns, www.washclean.org
by Craig Salins
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments next spring on the constitutionality of “rescue” matching funds – a key component of Arizona’s Clean Elections program that provides additional funds to Clean Elections candidates when they are outspent by privately-financed opponents or face opposition by independent ads . The court’s decision to hear the case was announced Monday, Nov. 29th.
Additional info – links on the Supreme Court case, McComish v. Bennett —
SCOTUS takes Arizona Clean Elections (rescue funds) case(Seattle Times)
SCOTUS to hear challenge to AZ’s Clean Elections law(AZCentral.com)
Brennan Center will defend AZ Clean Elections program(Brennan Center)
End of Public Financing? (Brennan Center post, by Mimi Murray Digby Marziani)
This lawsuit (McComish v. Bennett) began two years ago, when some Republican candidates – assisted by attorney Bill Maurer of the libertarian-leaning law firm Institute for Justice – argued that their fundraising (and therefore their speech) was “chilled” because funds they raised would simply provide more matching dollars to publicly-financed candidates.
In January 2009, a U.S. district judge in Phoenix found the matching funds provision unconstitutional. In May, 2010, the Ninth Circuit upheld the constitutionality of the law, issuing a stay to overturn the Arizona District Court. But then Clean Elections opponents asked the Supreme Court to intervene and block distribution of Clean Elections Act matching funds – and the Court did so (in June), pending a decision whether to hear the case.
Nearly no one is surprised the Supreme Court has chosen to hear this case. Opinions and rulings from various districts and federal circuit courts have been divided on whether public financing of campaigns – and in particular, the matching “rescue” funds feature that is part of most state Clean Elections programs – is constitutional under First Amendment “free speech” provisions.
We certainly know of the Supreme Court’s leanings, evidenced by the Citizens United ruling last January, and by the Court’s tossing out the “Millionaire’s Amendment” provision (Davis v. FEC) of the McCain-Feingold law, last year. Will the Court expand the lawsuit to rule against public financing of campaigns in general? – or will they confine a ruling to only the question of triggered matching funds? We don’t know.
But it should be clearer than ever that democracy in America is imperiled – by growing concentration of wealth at the top and by the power of money to influence election outcomes and lawmaking itself. Main Street households are often busy trying to survive in a depressed economy. Voters can easily be swayed by clever issue ads, spin and half-truths – especially on complex public policy issues with no easy answers.
It’s time for the Supreme Court to side with people (that is, flesh-and-blood natural persons) instead of money and wealth.
Since the court seems inclined otherwise – it’s time for a broad national movement to clarify (by a constitutional amendment) that “free speech” is intended as a right of the people, not as a means for money or corporate interests to hijack self-government – and the promise of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” – in America.
For details, visit MoveToAmend.org.
Also, see the back page of WPC’s proposals to the 2011 legislative session
~ Craig Salins
WA Public Campaigns / washclean.org / firstname.lastname@example.org
Last week a conservative Supreme Court candidate named Annette Ziegler won election to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. A record amount of spending occurred by both candidates and third parties in a nasty negative campaign. Sound familiar?
According to an opinion entitled “Campaigns Badly Need Cleaning Up” by The Capital Times of Madison, Wisconsin, Ziegler
“was a candidate who spent most of the past year orchestrating one of the most negative judicial campaigns in Wisconsin history, starting with a vicious letter authored by former Lt. Gov. Margaret Farrow and ending with a barrage of TV spots that depicted her opponent as a know-nothing “zero.”
An out-of-state outfit called the Club for Growth pumped $250,000 into Ziegler’s primary campaign alone to underwrite attack ads on Ziegler’s behalf, and even the public relations firm that engineered the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth’s slimy campaign against John Kerry in 2004 got involved on her side.
And none of this counts the onslaught by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the experts in negative campaigning, that piled on Ziegler’s opponent, Linda Clifford, for the better part of three months.”
In a separate article it is noted that besides the $1.7 million spent by the two candidates
“The race saw unprecedented spending by third parties. Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s largest business lobby, spent $1.45 million on ads supporting Ziegler and criticizing Clifford, according to Clifford’s campaign. ”
So is it any surprise that today a group of legislators in Wisconsin started circulating for co-sponsors a bill for public financing of state campaigns?
Any of this sound even more familiar now? Last year Washington went through a similar attack by the Building Industry Association of Washington and out of state money to try to elect right wing ideologues to the Washington State Supreme Court. We also saw record spending by special interests. We fared much better than Wisconsin but unfortunately the Washington State Legislature has done nothing to address the expected impact of large amounts of independent expenditures in future elections when the public is over the shock impact of last year’s races.
The Washington State Legislature this session has chosen to ignore public financing for judicial races as well as other state wide races. The reason is mainly that Legislators are also the recipients of large contributions spent by independent PAC’s in their own races. Speaker of the House Frank Chopp visualizes how such unlimited independent expenditures can be used to benefit his Democratic agenda and further solidify his caucus numbers. Republicans see it as their way back into power in the future.
They have however chosen to ignore the fact that we now have two separate and unequal campaign finance structures set up in our state that discriminate against the average citizen contributor. By limiting individual contributions directly to a candidate’s campaign committee, while allowing unlimited contributions by special interest groups, individuals and out of state funders to so called “independent PAC’s”, candidates lose control of their own campaigns and can be vastly outspent by outside interests.
One simple solution to end this segregated campaign system is to extend the present $1400 contribution limit per election for donations to major statewide candidate campaign committees, including Supreme Court Justices, to all campaign committees supporting or opposing a candidate. Whether given directly to the candidate or indirectly to a PAC, everyone is limited to the same $1400 contribution to support or oppose a candidate in a campaign.
The other solution to try to limit special interest mega-spending is to enact public financing for campaigns. Washington Public Campaigns attempted do this with a strong grassroots push to get the Washington State Legislature to pass legislation like Arizona and Maine have for all statewide candidates and North Carolina has for State Supreme Court races. Governor Gregoire supported a trial program for Supreme Court and Appellate Court races. The Washington State Legislature held hearings but ultimately passed nothing.
Washington Governor Christine Gregoire has put money in her state budget to use public money to finance Supreme Court and Appellate Court races. Majority House Leader Frank Chopp has said the House will pass legislation to finance public campaigns for judges. Want to learn more about the issue of publicly financed campaigns and why they are needed? Washington Public Campaigns has put together 4 great forums this week that can help change the future of politics in Washington State. Plan on attending.
Friday, January 5 – 7:30 PM
Seattle Town Hall, 8th & Seneca
With: DAVID SIROTA
New York Times’ best-selling author of “Hostile Takeover: How Big Money and Corruption Have Conquered Our Government-and How We Can Take It Back”
State Representative Linda Valentino (Maine) and State Senator Ed Ableser (Arizona)
$5 Donation Suggested at the door – no one turned away
Also at Seattle Town Hall
Attendance is limited.
Payment must be received by December 30th to reserve signed book.
Light fare provided.
Mail your check for admission to private reception (payable to Washington Public Campaigns) to B.Schlosstein, 10101 SE 3rd St., Bellevue, WA 98004,
$50 Reception plus signed copy of “Hostile Takeover”
More information: Annie@washclean.org, or call 206-784-9695
Thursday, January 4th – 7p.m. (Reception, 6:15 p.m.)
Contact: Chad Shue, email@example.com, 425-341-1061,
or: Harry Abbott, firstname.lastname@example.org, 425-783-0270
Saturday, January 6th – 11 a.m
Unitarian Universalist Congregation
Contact: Susan Eidenschink, email@example.com, 253-572-9305
Saturday, January 6th – 3:00 p.m.
Contact: Chris Stegman, firstname.lastname@example.org, 360-705-3528
This last election cycle in Washington State pointed out the vulnerability of our state judicial system to special interest money. One group, the BIAW (Building Industry Association), made a play for buying several seats on the Washington State Supreme Court to represent their special interests – interests like getting rid of growth management and zoning laws and environmental laws they didn’t like.
The BIAW’s raw power play pointed out the dangers of special interest money intent on winning no matter what the cost. The campaigning became a slug fest and saw spending records broken. It woke many people up to the reality that while the BIAW didn’t succeed this time, they or some other group could next time.
That is why there is a sudden urgent swelling of support for a solution to reduce the impact of money in elections. A grassroots citizens organization, Washington Public Campaigns, has been working for several years on public financing of campaigns and it seems it’s in the right place at the right time.
Washington Public Campaigns has 3 legislative bills they are pushing in the Legislative session starting in January in Olympia. One is to allow a local option for public campaign financing. The second is for public financing of judicial races. And the third is for public financing of all local legislative and state wide races.
Today the Seattle PI endorsed public financing of judicial races. Governor Gregoire has added $4.4 million dollars in her proposed budget to do just that. And House Majority Leader Frank Chopp has said that it is a priority of his and fellow Democrats to pass a bill. He also supports and believes that a local option for public financing will pass.
The more comprehensive bill covering state and legislative races is more of a long shot, even though both Maine and Arizona have enacted such legislation with good results. North Carolina enacted legislation for public financing of judicial races in 2002.
Its time for Washington State to take the first step and support public financing of State Supreme Court and Appellate races. The Judiciary needs to independent for it to be fair and impartial. It can not be so if court seats go to the biggest spenders.
The Washington State Public Disclosure Commission today voted to recommend that new limits be placed on large contributions corrupting the political process in Washington State. The limits would affect corporations, PAC’s and associations.
According to the Seattle Times
The five-member commission voted unanimously to ask Gov. Chris Gregoire and the Legislature to consider prohibiting groups such as the Building Industry Association of Washington and the Service Employees International Union to give their general funds directly to political action committees that support or oppose candidates. The groups would also be prohibited from using general funds for independent expenditures such as TV or radio ads.
The ban would apply to state offices, including the governor, the Legislature and the Supreme Court.
The commission also wants leaders to consider limiting the annual amount of money individuals or PACs can contribute to other PACs.
We think its high time that the Legislature enact further measures to stop special interests from trying to buy votes from the public. While they may not be putting dollars in people’s pockets like in old, the ability of wealthy organizations like the BIAW to saturate the political process with uncontrolled spending subverts the idea of fair elections.
We are only allowed one vote per person. Yet we know that dollars buy access to the public. Your vote becomes meaningless unless all candidates have fair access to get their campaign message before the voters and are not swamped by special interest megaspending.
The state can help this process by limiting what any individual can give, either directly or indirectly to any candidate. With computers and electronic campaign finance reporting it is easy to keep tabs of how much anyone gives to support or oppose a candidate. Being limited to giving $1400 per election directly to a statewide candidate but being allowed also to give $400,000 to a so called independent PAC that is also spending money to elect that candidate, means you really have no limits on campaign contributions.
Any limit imposed has to be calculated as a total given to a candidate, either directly to the candidate’s registered committee or indirectly to any other campaign committee including a committee of one (an expenditure by a wealthy patron on his own) that is supporting the candidate. Then the influence of concentrated money by special interests is eliminated.
A balancing needs to take place between the rights of free speech and special interest domination of the electoral process such that a narrow special interest can gain an unfair advantage in placing someone they support in office who then acts preferentially toward the donor while fulfilling their duties of office.
The state can go a long way toward reducing the influence of special interest money in elections by providing more public forums and debates among the candidates. For example, State sponsored candidate forums run by the Secretary of State’s Office for the public and press and media in an area that comprises one to two Congressional Districts would got a long way toward helping expose candidates to voters. That means a minimum of 5 to a maximum of 9 candidate forums before the primary and another series for the general election.
Such publicly sponsored forums would help to offset the argument that restricting large donors discriminates against certain candidates and limits their free speech rights.
Another approach is a system of publicly financed campaigns. See Washington Public Campaigns which is pushing for a bill for public financing of judicial races in Washington State in the upcoming Legislative session starting in January. A bill is currently being drafted to be introduced.
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