Citizens United v. FEC

On-Air Laughs, But Citizens United Not So Funny

Citizens United got a bit of airtime on Comedy Central this week, but that doesn’t mean that Supreme Court’s pro-plutocracy decision is a laughing matter.

On Tuesday, former Senator Russ Feingold joined Jon Stewart on the Daily Show to discuss the state of campaign finance, which is, essentially, that we are experiencing the “worst corruption in 100 years.” Citizens United, Feingold claims, “destroyed the entire foundation” of the McCain-Feingold Act, which was supposed to prevent corporations from using their treasuries to directly influence elections.

 

 

“If [money] causes corruption or the appearance of corruption, you can regulate it. That’s why you have limits on campaign contributions under federal law. The problem is Citizens United. It overturned a law from 1907 that nobody ever questioned and another law from 1947, so basically the Supreme Court just made it up. It’s one of the worst decisions in the history of the country. It’s the only decision I can remember that the average citizen knows about. They know something is wrong and this whole thing is going to collapse.”

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi went on the Colbert Report the next day to advocate for solutions to mitigate some of the effects of Citizens United: passing the DISCLOSE Act and eventually amending the Constitution to overturn Citizens United.

“If we want to cancel elections and just have the wealthiest people in America, and you know what their names are, give tens of millions of dollars, we can just ask them, who do they want to be President, who do they want to run Congress, who do they want to be governors….our Founders intended that the people decide.”

Although Colbert believes that this would be a “polite” course of action, Pelosi counters that it would not be very democratic. The people have a right to know how corporations are spending on our elections, and to reject that influence. She offers a prescription:

“Disclose. Stand by your ad. Win the election, reform the system, overturn the Supreme Court decision by amending the Constitution, and give the vote, the voice, and the power to the people.”

 

PFAW

A Chance to Overrule Citizens United?

Justices Ginsburg and Breyer suggest that Citizens United should be revisited via a case from Montana, based on the past two years' experience.
PFAW Foundation

DISCLOSE Act, Take 2

Last week, Congressman Chris Van Hollen introduced the DISCLOSE 2012 Act in an effort to bring transparency and accountability to our political system by requiring corporations to disclose their spending on elections. Sound familiar? That’s because the DISCLOSE Act was originally introduced in 2010, and was blocked by Senate Republicans.

The Supreme Court, in its infamous Citizens United decision, put our democracy up for sale by opening the floodgates to unlimited, unregulated and undisclosed corporate spending on political contributions. However, they may have believed that disclosure would be part of the deal: Justice Anthony Kennedy, who authored the decision, said that “The First Amendment protects political speech and disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way. This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.” In fact, eight of the nine Justices in that decision upheld disclosure requirements, recognizing their critical importance.

In an article published last year in the New Republic, Norman Ornstein recounts how at a time in the not-too-distant past, GOP leaders supported disclosure as well. In the words of Senator Mitch McConnell, “Why would a little disclosure be better than a lot of disclosure?” Rep. John Boehner expressed similar sentiments a few years later, saying, “I think what we ought to do is we ought to have full disclosure, full disclosure of all the money that we raise and how it is spent. And I think sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

In the post-Citizens United era, the GOP’s tune has changed. Senator McConnell now views disclosure as “a cynical effort to muzzle critics of this administration and its allies in Congress,” and rallied his fellow Senate Republicans to block the bill.

Are we headed for a bit of déjà vu with DISCLOSE 2012? Perhaps, but advocates of an open and accountable democracy have the American people – 92% believe that corporations wield undue influence in our elections – on their side. While we work toward a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and restore the balance of power in our democracy to the people, the DISCLOSE 2012 Act is a step in the right direction. The GOP should get on board.

PFAW

President Obama Supports Consitutional Amendment to Overturn Citizens United

Yesterday, President Obama announced his support of a constitutional amendment to reign in special interest money in elections. With his support the growing movement pushing to amend the constitution to overturn Citizens United is gaining even more momentum. The diverse coalition comprised of millions of Americans, small business owners and organizations concerned about the undue influence that corporations wield in our democracy has been raising its voice, and now our elected representatives in city halls and state legislatures, in Congress and even the White House are listening and taking action.

The Supreme Court’s flawed decision that opened our electoral system to unlimited, undisclosed and unregulated corporate spending on our elections needs to be undone. As the president’s campaign manager, Jim Messina, noted in a blog post, President Obama has always opposed the Citizens United decision and views a constitutional amendment as a potential solution:

The President opposed the Citizens United decision. He understood that with the dramatic growth in opportunities to raise and spend unlimited special-interest money, we would see new strategies to hide it from public view. He continues to support a law to force full disclosure of all funding intended to influence our elections, a reform that was blocked in 2010 by a unanimous Republican filibuster in the U.S. Senate. And the President favors action—by constitutional amendment, if necessary—to place reasonable limits on all such spending.

Marge Baker, Executive Vice President at People For the American Way, declares that a constitutional amendment is in fact, necessary, in a statement released to the press this morning:

Citizens United opened the floodgates to a wave of corporate and special interest money in our elections. Since then, Americans from across the political spectrum have joined together to support amending the Constitution to reverse the damage done by the Supreme Court and limit corporate and special interest influence in our democracy. As Justice Stevens pointed out in his dissent, there are problems with our political system, but few people would argue that a shortage of money is one of them.

Amending the Constitution is the only way to completely overturn the Court’s decision, and President Obama should be applauded for lending his support to the movement to restore democracy to the people. Americans of all parties and ideologies support amending the Constitution to overturn Citizens United and related cases.

This is a movement moment. Americans are sick and tired of government that puts the interests of the wealthy above the needs of ordinary people. Momentum for a constitutional amendment is growing every day.

 

PFAW

President Obama Supports Constitutional Amendment to Overturn Citizens United

Yesterday, President Obama announced his support of a constitutional amendment to reign in special interest money in elections. With his support the growing movement pushing to amend the constitution to overturn Citizens United is gaining even more momentum. The diverse coalition comprised of millions of Americans, small business owners and organizations concerned about the undue influence that corporations wield in our democracy has been raising its voice, and now our elected representatives in city halls and state legislatures, in Congress and even the White House are listening and taking action.

The Supreme Court’s flawed decision that opened our electoral system to unlimited, undisclosed and unregulated corporate spending on our elections needs to be undone. As the president’s campaign manager, Jim Messina, noted in a blog post, President Obama has always opposed the Citizens United decision and views a constitutional amendment as a potential solution:

The President opposed the Citizens United decision. He understood that with the dramatic growth in opportunities to raise and spend unlimited special-interest money, we would see new strategies to hide it from public view. He continues to support a law to force full disclosure of all funding intended to influence our elections, a reform that was blocked in 2010 by a unanimous Republican filibuster in the U.S. Senate. And the President favors action—by constitutional amendment, if necessary—to place reasonable limits on all such spending.

Marge Baker, Executive Vice President at People For the American Way, declares that a constitutional amendment is in fact, necessary, in a statement released to the press this morning:

Citizens United opened the floodgates to a wave of corporate and special interest money in our elections. Since then, Americans from across the political spectrum have joined together to support amending the Constitution to reverse the damage done by the Supreme Court and limit corporate and special interest influence in our democracy. As Justice Stevens pointed out in his dissent, there are problems with our political system, but few people would argue that a shortage of money is one of them.

Amending the Constitution is the only way to completely overturn the Court’s decision, and President Obama should be applauded for lending his support to the movement to restore democracy to the people. Americans of all parties and ideologies support amending the Constitution to overturn Citizens United and related cases.

This is a movement moment. Americans are sick and tired of government that puts the interests of the wealthy above the needs of ordinary people. Momentum for a constitutional amendment is growing every day.

 

PFAW

PFAW Panel Highlights: Constitutional Remedies to Overturn Citizens United

People For the American Way hosted a panel (entire video) on Capitol Hill as part of a month of action surrounding the second anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. The panel showcased the rapidly growing movement across the country to address the threat to our democracy from unrestrained corporate spending to influence our elections through a constitutional amendment. The American people have had enough of corporations and special interests holding the puppet strings in our democracy and are taking a stand in the halls of government – from city council and state legislative chambers to the halls of the U.S. Congress – by mobilizing our elected officials in support of amending the Constitution to ensure that “We the People” means all the people, not just the privileged few.

The panelists discussed the nationwide effort to restore the balance of power to the people and described their experiences in organizing toward and successfully advocating for resolutions to overturn Citizens United.

Senator Tom Udall described the necessity of bipartisan support on the path toward ratifying a constitutional amendment, noting that past campaign-finance reform efforts have enjoyed bipartisan support. Senator Udall acknowledged that when the people make their voices heard and build momentum, a constitutional amendment can become inevitable.

 

 

Colorado Common Cause activist Elena Nuñez discussed the grassroots enthusiasm behind stopping the flood of corporate influence in our elections. Time after time, noted Nuñez, local issues have been hijacked by out-of-state special interests, and activists are eager to organize around a constitutional amendment to stop the source of this problem.

 

 

Representative Keith Ellison described the court-led return to the “gilded age” and drew parallels to today’s progressive movement, concluding that a constitutional amendment is both possible and necessary to ensure that our government serves the people, not corporate special interests.

 

New York City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito described NYC’s determination to take a stand on the issue of money in politics and serve as an example for municipalities around the country. She described the significant campaign finance rules in place in New York, which serve to protect the people who would be disenfranchised simply because they lack the funds to compete with corporate lobbyists.

 

Representative Ted Deutch described the toxic political atmosphere created by the Super PAC fueled ads made possible by Citizens United, and that a constitutional amendment is the only way to prevent the corrosive effects of a government beholden to corporate special interests instead of the people’s interests.

 

 

Maryland State Senator and People For the American Way senior fellow Jamie Raskin discussed the consequences of the Citizens United decision as a shift away from the core principle of democracy “by, of and for the people.” The decision, Senator Raskin noted, brings radical changes to the nature of our democratic system, interpretations of constitutional law and even our imperils our economic system by incentivizing “vulture capitalism” or “crony capitalism.”

 

 

PFAW

Citizens United Hurts America's Real Job Creators: Small Businesses

An op-ed in CNN by the American Sustainable Business Council’s David Brodwin describes how the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United is pro-business – but only pro-mega-multinational-corporation-with-huge-cash-reserves-to-spend-on-political-ads-and-lobbying-business.

Citizens United, which opened the floodgates for corporations to spend unregulated, unrestricted and undisclosed amounts for political purposes is not very popular among the real engine of the American economy, according to a recent poll that found that 66% of small business owners thought the decision was “mostly bad” or “somewhat bad.”

The ASBC highlights some of the main reasons why the Citizens United ruling created an unfair advantage for wealthy special interests:

First, allowing unlimited money into politics allows the past to hold the future hostage. Companies (and individuals who own them) with sufficient resources to sway elections often represent the industries and companies of the past, rather than the industries and companies that are creating the future…

Second, allowing unlimited money in politics allows the big to achieve an unfair advantage over the small. This is ironic in light of the huge role small business plays in creating private sector jobs in America, even as some large corporations act as net destroyers of American jobs, when outsourcing and offshoring are factored in…

Third, allowing unlimited money in politics allows companies to collect IOUs for special favors from presidential candidates -- particularly as a result of contributions made early in the election season, when a few million dollars can swing the result in a small state like New Hampshire.

 

The bottom line is that Citizens United is an affront to free and open competition, stacks the deck in favor of the mega corporations that don’t really drive the American economy, and above all, is a direct assault on the democratic process.

 

Elected officials agree:

Rep. Keith Ellison

 

Maryland State Senator Jamie Raskin

PFAW

Video from PFAW Panel: Constitutional Remedies to Overturning Citizens United

People For the American Way’s Marge Baker moderated a panel discussion on Capitol Hill about the necessity of a constitutional amendment to address out-of-control corporate spending on elections made possible by Citizens United. A rapidly growing constellation of elected leaders, grass roots organizations and by a 48 point margin Americans believe that deep-pocketed corporations should not be able to overpower the will of the American people. Supporters of constitutional remedies to restore the balance of power to the people have reached a “movement moment”: ten constitutional amendments have been introduced in the 112th Congress, and dozens of state and local resolutions opposing the decision have been adopted in towns, cities and states across the country.

Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way, was joined by Senator Tom Udall, Representative Ted Deutch, Representative Keith Ellison, Maryland State Senator Jamie Raskin, New York City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito and Colorado Activist Elena Nuñez for the discussion.

 

“Money, lobbyists and special interests have too much influence and we’ve got to get control of it.” –Sen. Tom Udall

“At this moment, we have to amend the constitution to clarify that for-profit corporations cannot spend their money, every dollar of which they raised for commercial purposes, to influence the outcome of elections.”–Rep. Ted Deutch

“I introduced my constitutional amendment because I believe America should be a democracy, not a plutocracy.” –Rep. Keith Ellison

“This is not an anti-business thing. We want corporations to thrive, but we don’t want them to govern.” –Maryland State Senator Jamie Raskin

“Money can drown out our voices…we have to take it out of the court’s hands and give it back to the people – and now is the time to do it.” –NYC Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito

“Once people understood that there was something we could do, that a constitutional amendment was a way to regain the people’s voice…people really gravitated to it.” –Elena Nuñez, Colorado Common Cause

PFAW

Citizens United Bad for Small Business

A new poll released by the American Sustainable Business Council shows that two-thirds American small business owners view the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United as bad for small businesses and overwhelmingly believe that corporations have been given too much freedom to spend money to influence political campaigns.

With small business owners joining the majority of individual citizens who believe that the Citizens United decision is bad for America, it is clear who the only beneficiaries are: huge corporations who can afford to contribute millions to Super PAC’s and hire lobbyists to effectively buy the legislations and politicians they want. Here are the main findings of the poll:

 

Unlimited corporate political spending hurts us all, from damaging the small businesses that create jobs to our fundamental democratic values.

People For the American Way, along with thousands of Americans and organizations under the United For the People banner, is organizing a month of action to advocate for a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United and restore the balance of power to the people.

PFAW

Republican Party Comes Out in Support of Direct Corporate Contributions to Candidates

The Republican National Committee filed an amicus brief in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals today challenging the century-old federal ban on direct corporate contributions to candidates for office. If successful, the challenge would further weaken the clean elections laws that were decimated by the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC. Citizens United struck down laws setting limits on the amount corporations could spend to influence elections via outside advocacy, but maintained the ban on direct corporate contributions.

It’s remarkable that the Republican Party is openly supporting a move that would amount to legalized pay-for-play by corporate donors. Under the weakened post-Citizens United rules, secretive groups that channel corporate money to influence elections have already gained enormous influence. Allowing corporations to contribute directly to campaigns would make the ties that bind wealthy corporations with elected officials even stronger.
 

PFAW

Marge Baker: We Are At a 'Movement Moment'

PFAW’s Marge Baker appeared on MSNBC’s The Dylan Ratigan show yesterday, where she described the growing movement to overturn Citizens United v. FEC, the flawed 2010 Supreme Court decision that ultimately led to the “Super PAC,” resulting in toxic levels of corporate and special interest money spent on influencing our elections.

“The only answer we really have to the toxic issue of money in politics is to amend the Constitution,” said Baker. “We are working with a constellation of organizations with literally millions of members around the country, including Public Citizen, Common Cause, Move to Amend, our organization People for the American Way, Center for Media and Democracy and Free Speech For People, we are all working together as part of this umbrella called United for the People, and we are working to call attention to the problem of Citizens United and urge the amendment of the Constitution to address the problems.”

This is truly a grassroots movement, and Americans across the country are demanding change. Throughout this month surrounding the second anniversary of the Citizens United decision, demonstrations at courthouses, statehouses and corporate headquarters have taken place across the country. Additionally, dozens of resolutions against the decision have been adopted at the local and state level. In the 112th Congress, ten proposed constitutional amendments have been proposed thus far.

“92% of Americans think there is too much money in politics,” continued Baker. “I think we’re in a movement moment. This movement is going to grow, and we’re going to see some real action.”

 

 

PFAW

Movement to Overturn Citizens United Gains Momentum as Anniversary Approaches

January 21 will mark the second anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate spending in elections, and the movement to overturn the decision is gaining steam.

As we approach the first post-Citizens United presidential election, we are already seeing the damage that unlimited and unaccountable money in politics can do. The 2010 midterm elections were dominated by secretive groups funneling corporate cash to political activities, and the Republican presidential primary has been greatly influenced by so-called Super PACs, which can spend millions supporting or opposing candidates.

In response to the growing outcry against Citizens United, People For the American Way has joined with a number of other advocacy groups to organize protests and organizing parties around the anniversary of the decision. People For’s Marge Baker writes more about the United For People movement in the Huffington Post today.

Marge will be discussing the anniversary activities and the push to overturn Citizens United with MSNBC host Dylan Ratigan this afternoon at 4:20 p.m. Eastern. Ratigan has a new op-ed out about the reasons to get money out of politics. Here’s an excerpt:

1) The Candidate With More Money Wins: From the 2008 elections: "In 93 percent of House of Representatives races and 94 percent of Senate races that had been decided by mid-day Nov. 5, 2008 the candidate who spent the most money ended up winning."


2) Congress's Main Job Is to Raise Money, Not Govern "Here is a general rule of thumb for US House incumbents. They need to raise roughly $10,000 a week started the day they are elected."


3) 48 Percent Say Most Members of Congress Are Corrupt "A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that 48% of Likely U.S. Voters believe that most members of Congress are corrupt. Just 28% disagree, and another 24% are not sure."


4) Voters Think That Cash is King "A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Thursday indicates that 86 percent of the public thinks elected officials in the nation's capital are mostly influenced by the pressure they receive from campaign contributors."


5) No Trust in Elected Officials According to Pew Research less than 25% of people believe they can trust our government at all, particularly our elected officials.


Read the whole piece at the Huffington Post…and be sure to tune in this afternoon to hear Ratigan’s conversation with Marge Baker.
 

PFAW

Romney and Huckabee Bash Super PACs, but Will They Work to End Their Influence?

A little over a year ago, in September 2010, Senate Republicans succeeded in blocking the DISCLOSE Act, a measure that would have added some transparency to the new campaign finance free-for-all unleashed by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Citizens United allowed outside interest groups to spend unlimited amounts of money on behalf of candidates for office. The DISCLOSE Act was an attempt to make sure that the sources of that money, at least, were made public.

After the DISCLOSE Act failed, however, a new creature in American politics began to grow: Super PACs, organizations that can spend unlimited amounts of money on behalf of a candidate without revealing where that money comes from. Super PACS and undisclosed money played a big role in the 2010 elections, which we documented in our report Citizens Blindsided: Corporate Money in the 2010 Elections and America’s New Shadow Democracy. Undisclosed spending promises to be an unavoidable force in 2012, as well. In the lead-up to today’s Iowa caucuses alone, outside groups have spent an estimated $12.5 million in support of or opposing presidential candidates. A Super PAC run by former aides to Mitt Romney is widely credited for helping to take down Newt Gingrich in the weeks leading up to the caucuses.

But as Super PACs begin to take over elections, some prominent Republicans are beginning to sour on them. Mitt Romney, who has been the biggest beneficiary of Super PAC cash so far in the GOP primaries, has called their rise a “disaster.” Today, Mike Huckabee, who recently teamed up with Citizens United itself for a film promoting “fetal personhood” laws, called the rise of unaccountable Super PACs “One of the worst things that ever happened in American politics.”

It’s easy for Romney to bash Super PACs while continuing to benefit from their largesse and for Huckabee to do the same while working with the group largely responsible for their new influence. But will Republican leaders like Romney and Huckabee actually support greater disclosure laws, like the DISCLOSE Act, that would bring Super PACs out into the open?

The fight in Iowa has exposed the significant role that undisclosed and unaccountable money will play in the leadup to 2012. The Republican candidates and leaders like Hucakbee should be asked if they like the new status quo, and if not what they would do  to change it.
 

PFAW

In Montana, a Chip in the Armor of Citizens United

Late Friday, the Montana Supreme Court ended 2011 with a 5-2 opinion upholding the state's prohibition on corporate spending on independent expenditures to support or defeat a candidate. Although Citizens United struck down the federal law in that area, the Montana Supreme Court found that the state, by presenting a strong evidentiary record, had demonstrated that its law survives the strict scrutiny mandated by Citizens United.

As notable as this decision is, what is particularly striking is the dissent's scathing criticism of the Roberts Court's most notorious ruling to date. Judge James Nelson disagreed with the majority that Montana's law could be distinguished from Citizens United. However, he took the opportunity to discuss the severe flaws of the Citizens United decision and the damage it is doing to our country. Below are a couple of choice excerpts (with internal citations removed):

While, as a member of this Court, I am bound to follow Citizens United, I do not have to agree with the Supreme Court's decision. And, to be absolutely clear, I do not agree with it. For starters, the notion that corporations are disadvantaged in the political realm is unbelievable. Indeed, it has astounded most Americans. The truth is that corporations wield inordinate power in Congress and in state legislatures. It is hard to tell where government ends and corporate America begins; the transition is seamless and overlapping. In my view, Citizens United has turned the First Amendment's "open marketplace" of ideas into an auction house for [Milton] Friedmanian corporatists.

and

I am compelled to say something about corporate "personhood. " While I recognize that this doctrine is firmly entrenched in the law, I find the entire concept offensive. Corporations are artificial creatures of law. As such, they should enjoy only those powers—not constitutional rights, but legislatively-conferred powers—that are concomitant with their legitimate function, that being limited-liability investment vehicles for business. Corporations are not persons. Human beings are persons, and it is an affront to the inviolable dignity of our species that courts have created a legal fiction which forces people—human beings—to share fundamental, natural rights with soulless creations of government. Worse still, while corporations and human beings share many of the same rights under the law, they clearly are not bound equally to the same codes of good conduct, decency, and morality, and they are not held equally accountable for their sins. Indeed, it is truly ironic that the death penalty and hell are reserved only to natural persons.

That even the judges who enforce the Roberts Court’s dirty work are compelled to speak out against it shows how deeply unpopular and wrong Citizens United is.

PFAW

Guest Post: Local Governments Speak Out Against Citizens United

By Cynthia Wolken

City Councilwoman, Missoula, Montana & Member of People For the American Way Foundation's Young Elected Officials Network

Across the nation, Americans are mobilizing against the damage done to our democracy by Citizens United. The only way to fully correct the decision is through a constitutional amendment, and activists all over the country are debating exactly what an amendment would look like. But there is one important point of agreement: We must reclaim our democracy from powerful corporate interests. As the blog post below by Missoula city councilwoman Cynthia Wolken demonstrates, members of PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials are part of this continuing dialogue.

I am proud to live in a community where this November, 75% of voters agreed that corporations are not people and should not have the same rights as you and I. This common sense opposition to corporate ‘personhood’ spanned party affiliation, age, gender, and yes, even class. The resolution that I referred to the ballot was so common sense that it overwhelmingly passed with only a bare-bones, grass roots, word-of-mouth campaign that raised and spent less than $5,000.00. Five thousand dollars! And now, like a good old fashion Montana prairie fire, communities across the state are hoping to run similar campaigns to raise awareness of the issue among their friends and neighbors and push our state and federal elected officials to fix this mess we’ve found ourselves in.


As a newly elected official serving on the City Council in Missoula, Montana, the last thing on my policy agenda was thinking about ways to tinker with the United States Constitution. I was elected to do the people’s work, and at the time, I thought that meant fixing potholes and making sure their leaves were picked up on time (which I can assure you, I did and still do spend plenty of time on). But what I heard knocking doors in my community was an overwhelming and disheartening sense of despair about people’s relationship to their own government. Many did not vote because they didn’t think their votes mattered – they believe that those with the most money wield the most influence.


Before Citizens United, I would have tried to convince them otherwise. Now, it’s hard not to agree, even as we fight for change. In Citizens United v. the FEC, the U.S. Supreme Court majority declared that corporations are people and that they have a first amendment right to spend as much money as they like defeating or supporting their favored candidates or ballot issues. Because of this ruling, Montana’s own campaign finance laws are on the chopping block, challenged by a group that doesn’t believe in complying with our contribution limits or disclosure laws.


This ruling violates our fundamental sense of fairness and rules of logic. Even the most educated of voters can be fooled by dishonest ad campaigns funding by corporate front groups with misleading names. Astroturf groups use names with words like ‘freedom, justice, prosperity, and liberty,’ when their aims are often the complete opposite. I could never have predicted that our little ballot referendum campaign in Western Montana would coincide with Occupy Wall Street and its subsequent demand to abolish corporate personhood, but I think this speaks to the depth and breadth of the appeal of getting our representative democracy back on track.


The only way to right this wrong is to amend the Constitution to explicitly state that corporations are not people. As a lawyer myself, I know the City of Missoula can’t amend the United States Constitution. So why a referendum on the Missoula City ballot? Local government is the forum left where citizens’ voices are heard the loudest, that is why I referred this to the City Council – I felt the voters of Missoula deserved to have a say on this issue. This is what grass-roots government looks like – I am honored to represent intelligent, informed voters who supported this effort to demand transparency and accountability. After all, as my constituents remind me, on-time leaf pick-up doesn’t mean much if we were living in a full-fledged corporatocracy.
 

PFAW

A Time for House Party Action

Last night the energy continued to grow as citizens from all over the country gathered in living rooms, church basements, college campuses and “Occupy” protests to discuss the need for a constitutional amendment to undo the Supreme Court’s ruling that lets corporations spend as much as they want to influence our elections.  US Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was the featured speaker during our webcast highlighting the impact the decision will have on our lives and our political system and calling for a constitutional amendment as the remedy.

People For the American Way was one of the proud co-sponsors of the over 200 house parties focused on educating, planning and developing actions in the states. The planning focused on grassroots actions taking place all over the country on January 21, 2012, the second anniversary of the Citizen’s United decision.

Click here to view last night’s webinar. Also visit www.united4thepeople.org  to see many of the organizations working to overturn the Citizens United decision.

PFAW

Boulder, Colorado Joins Call for End to Corporate Personhood

Citizens of Boulder, Colorado voted last night to pass a ballot measure calling for a constitutional amendment stating that corporations are not people and do not have the same rights as people to influence elections. The campaign was a grassroots effort organized by Move to Amend, a national coalition dedicated to abolishing corporate personhood and reversing the Supreme Court’s deeply flawed decision in Citizens United v. FEC.

“From Occupy Wall Street to Boulder, Colorado and every town in between, Americans are fed up with corporate dominance of our political system,” said Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap, a national spokesperson for Move to Amend. “Local resolution campaigns are an opportunity for citizens to speak up and let it be known that we won’t accept the corporate takeover of our government lying down. We urge communities across the country to join the Move to Amend campaign and raise your voices.”

 

The national movement supporting a constitutional amendment is picking up steam. Yesterday, Senators Tom Udall and Michael Bennet (with additional cosponsors) introduced an amendment that would reverse the effects of the Citizens United decision, a move which according to PFAW’s Marge Baker, will will help ensure that “the American people – not deep pocketed corporations – [will] be the loudest voice when we choose our leaders.”

Voters in Madison and Dane Counties, Wisconsin approved a similar measure earlier this year, and voters in Missoula, Montana will have a chance to do so next week.

The ballot measures may be scattered across the country, but the message is clear: corporations are not people, and the flood of special-interest money that has hijacked our democracy needs to be stopped.

A complete list of all resolutions passed so far is available here.

PFAW

Corporate Political Spending: Relief through Consumer & Shareholder Pressure

Thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC which granted corporations the same rights as people to spend unlimited, undisclosed money to influence elections, the 2012 election cycle promises to bring the biggest flood of political spending from outside groups we’ve ever seen. Such outsized influence by a few corporations and special interest groups is a staggering reflection on the state of our democracy, and it’s clear that corporations are well on their way to becoming our elected officials’ primary constituency. If this pattern continues unabated, American citizens will be left in the dust.

A recent story by the Washington Post examines two studies showing that although special interests are likely to continue flooding the electoral process with political donations, many are beginning to realize that avoiding political spending altogether is good for government and good for business.

Americans are taking back our democracy by showing corporations that staying out of the political process is in their best interest after all. Under pressure from customers and shareholders, corporations are realizing that when they engage in political spending, they become a symbol of what they support – and the public-relations impact isn’t always positive.

When Target gave money in July to a pro-business group in Minnesota, the company thought it was helping its bottom line by backing candidates in its home state who support lower taxes. Instead, the retailer has found itself in a fight with liberal and gay rights groups that has escalated into calls for a nationwide boycott and protests at the company's headquarters and stores.

The potential for a consumer backlash has caused corporations to reevaluate the benefit of interfering in the political process, and some are banning it outright. The threat of a shareholder backlash looms large as well, and shareholders are beginning to demand disclosure of where their investments ultimately end up. The Corporate Reform Coalition, along with PFAW, has been a strong supporter of the Shareholder Protection Act, which would require corporations to disclose their political donations to their shareholders, preventing a company’s investors from indirectly contributing to a candidate without their knowledge.

Citizens United may have opened the door to a corporate takeover of our democracy, but through public pressure, reform such as the Shareholder Protection Act and ultimately a constitutional amendment enabling the government to limit corporate influence in elections, we can ensure that the American people retain the loudest voice in our democracy.

PFAW

Don’t Speak: The Supreme Court’s New Theory of Free Speech in Elections

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend as much as they want to influence elections. Yesterday, the Court ruled that wealthy candidates and campaign donors have the First Amendment right not to have their spending matched by their opponents.

Welcome to the new logic of free speech in elections.

In a 5-4 decision today, the Supreme Court ruled that a crucial provision of Arizona’s landmark clean elections law, which provides matching funds to publicly financed candidates who are up against particularly well-financed opponents, to be unconstitutional. Why? Because the provision to put publicly financed candidates on even footing with their privately financed opponents “chills” the speech of wealthy individuals and groups who want to pour money into elections.

Yes, if you’re a wealthy person or interest group looking to buy an impact in an election, you might be put off by knowing that, because of matching funds, you would never be able to overwhelm a publicly funded opponent into comparative silence. But, looking at it from the other side, if you’re a candidate who wants to spend your campaign talking to voters rather than donors, you might hesitate to take public financing if you knew you would never be able to even come close the funds of your opponent – without matching funds, the public financing system is all but useless. By taking away the mechanism by which a greater number of candidates can make their voices heard, the Court has stifled speech, rather than protected it.

Justice Elena Kagan, in a zinger-laden dissent, took on the majority’s “more speech is less speech” argument:

The First Amendment's core purpose is to foster a healthy, vibrant political system full of robust discussion and debate. Nothing in Arizona's anticorruption statute, the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Act, violates this constitutional protection. To the contrary, the Act promotes the values underlying both the First Amendment and our entire Constitution by enhancing the "opportunity for free political discussion to the end that government may be responsive to the will of the people."

People For’s Marge Baker had this to say:

The Roberts Court has once again twisted the Constitution to benefit the wealthy and powerful while leaving ordinary Americans with a diminished voice. Like in Citizens United v. FEC, which prohibited legislatures from limiting corporate spending to influence elections, the Court’s majority has strayed from the text and history of the Constitution in order to prevent citizens from maintaining control over our democracy. The Roberts Court would do well to remember that the Constitution was written to protect democracy for all people, not just the rich and powerful. Today it has ruled not only that the wealthy have a right to spend more but that they have a right that everyone else spend less.


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Citizens United Freed Corporations to Politically Pressure Employees

The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which allowed corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on politicking, has caused ripples of sometimes unexpected consequences – from the toppling of long-established state laws to the rise of secretive corporate spending groups that operate outside the reach of disclosure laws. Now The Nation has uncovered another destructive consequence of the decision:

On the eve of the November midterm elections, Koch Industries sent an urgent letter to most of its 50,000 employees advising them on whom to vote for and warning them about the dire consequences to their families, their jobs and their country should they choose to vote otherwise.

The Nation obtained the Koch Industries election packet for Washington State [1]—which included a cover letter from its president and COO, David Robertson; a list of Koch-endorsed state and federal candidates; and an issue of the company newsletter, Discovery, full of alarmist right-wing propaganda.

Legal experts interviewed for this story called the blatant corporate politicking highly unusual, although no longer skirting the edge of legality, thanks to last year’s Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which granted free speech rights to corporations.

“Before Citizens United, federal election law allowed a company like Koch Industries to talk to officers and shareholders about whom to vote for, but not to talk with employees about whom to vote for,” explains Paul M. Secunda, associate professor of law at Marquette University. But according to Secunda, who recently wrote in The Yale Law Journal Online about the effects of Citizens United on political coercion in the workplace, the decision knocked down those regulations. “Now, companies like Koch Industries are free to send out newsletters persuading their employees how to vote. They can even intimidate their employees into voting for their candidates.” Secunda adds, “It’s a very troubling situation.”

The Kochs were major supporters of the Citizens United case; they were also chief sponsors of the Tea Party and major backers of the anti-“Obamacare” campaign. Through their network of libertarian think tanks and policy institutes, they have been major drivers of unionbusting campaigns in Wisconsin, Michigan and elsewhere.

“This sort of election propaganda seems like a new development,” says UCLA law professor Katherine Stone, who specializes in labor law and who reviewed the Koch Industries election packet for The Nation. “Until Citizens United, this sort of political propaganda was probably not permitted. But after the Citizens United decision, I can imagine it’ll be a lot more common, with restrictions on corporations now lifted.”

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