With thousands of people across the country uniting against the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, Public Citizen today launches the Web site CitizensUnitedAgainstCitizensUnited.org.
There’s reason to suspect that the organization that brought the Supreme Court case – Citizens United – is unhappy about the massive public outrage over the decision -and that it doesn’t want anyone pointing out the reality that citizens are uniting against Citizens United.
Citizens United Against Citizens United was originally a Facebook group created by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. The idea was to use Facebook to organize people opposed to the Citizens United decision, which gave corporations the right to spend unlimited funds to influence federal elections.
But Citizens United sent a threatening letter to the Wisconsin organization alleging trademark infringement and demanded it stop using the name “Citizens United” in its Facebook campaign.
Public Citizen offered its legal resources to defend the Wisconsin group, but, not wanting the hassle of litigation, the group instead dropped the name and renamed its Facebook group. Public Citizen decided the name Citizens United Against Citizens United was too good to go to waste and created a Web site with that name. The site urges visitors to take a stand against corporate influence in elections and calls for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court ruling.
“Citizens United, the court case, debased the First Amendment by saying corporations have a constitutional right to spend whatever they like to influence elections,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “Now Citizens United, the organization, sees fit to bully another organization into sacrificing legitimate free speech rights. Public Citizen believes in the First Amendment, and we aim to defend it against a reckless Supreme Court decision and a hypocritical advocacy group.”
Citizens United is gearing up to get involved in the upcoming campaign season; the organization recently sent out an e-mail with job descriptions for two documentary producers to make pieces leading up to the 2010 elections.
“We’re already beginning to see the effects of Citizens United, with states throwing out restrictions on corporate election spending, the Chamber of Commerce stuffing its coffers to run election ads later this year, various political committees and advocacy groups clamoring for corporate contributions, and corporate insiders confirming that Citizens United signaled to business that there is no longer reason to exercise restraint in political spending,” Weissman said. “There’s no time to waste in reasserting that our government must be of, by and for the people, not the corporations.”
Public Citizen has launched a petition drive for a constitutional amendment to clarify that corporations do not have free speech rights. The organization supports other efforts, like the Shareholders Protection Act introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.), which is designed to give shareholders a say over whether and how much corporations spend money on elections. Public Citizen also supports the Fair Elections Now Act, which would allow for public financing of federal elections.
Should Citizens United come after Public Citizen as it did the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Public Citizen is ready. Merely using the words “citizens united” in a URL does not constitute trademark infringement, according to Paul Alan Levy, a Public Citizen attorney who specializes in trademark law and Internet free speech.
In addition to giving the background as to its namesake, the Web site also gives the history and context of both the Supreme Court case and Public Citizen’s stake in it.