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Rogue court flouts democracy in Citizens United ruling


The Citizens United decision is a very unfortunate ruling for both the integrity of our political system and the reputation of the Court. It represents nothing less than a rebuke of a century of deliberated political culture and an affirmation that the Roberts Court intends to be an activist court when it comes to writing this nation’s laws.

Despite a century of repeated congressional deliberations on corporate money in politics – beginning with the 1907 Tillman Act, followed by the 1925 Federal Corrupt Practices Act, the 1943 War Labor Disputes Act, the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, the 1971 FECA, and the 2002 BCRA – the new Supreme Court decided it knows best. The Roberts Court concluded it even knows better than all previous courts, which have generally upheld the same restrictions.

It is difficult to know how much new money the ruling will bring into politics – after all, the nation has never lived in this kind of political environment – but it is likely to be very substantial and very threatening. The ambiguous Wisconsin Right to Life ruling, which poked a hole in BCRA, immediately resulted in $100 million in new corporate spending in the last two months of the 2008 elections. The unambiguous Citizens United decision takes away what’s left of the dam limiting corporate money. The Chamber of Commerce alone reported spending $144 million in lobbying Capitol Hill in 2009 and have pledged even greater political expenditures in the coming year.

Citizens United provides corporations with a powerful club indeed to bring to Capitol Hill, as Congress next grapples with global warming and the abuses of the financial industry. The recent healthy rise in small donors staking claim to helping finance candidates and shape the political agenda will be dwarfed and perhaps eliminated in 2010.

Make no mistake: this is a rogue court flouting democratic processes and the will of the people.

Citizens United cannot stand.

Several immediate steps must be taken to soften the blow. The most significant is passage of a strong public financing system for congressional and presidential elections – strong enough to provide candidates with the resources to answer the expected corporate onslaught.

Another important step is passage of a comprehensive shareholder protection act, requiring each and every corporate expenditure by a CEO to be approved by a majority of the corporate shareholders, including those of us who have retirement accounts invested in the corporate treasuries.

In the end, We the People will have to change the mind of the Court. A constitutional amendment making clear that corporate entities are not persons under the First Amendment will fix what the Roberts Court has damaged – our Constitution.

Craig Holman, Ph.D, is Public Citizen’s expert on lobbying and ethics.

Cross-posted at National Journal’s Under the Influence blog.