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This month marks the second anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s horrendous decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission that has allowed corporations to pour unlimited money into elections. In this election season, democracy is paying the price.
On Jan. 21, 2010, in a 5-4 decision, the nation’s highest court ruled that the First Amendment was intended by the Founding Fathers to allow corporations to exercise free speech — limitless and without regulation.
Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said: “No sufficient governmental interest justified limits on the political speech of nonprofit or for-profit corporations … For these reasons, political speech must prevail against laws that would suppress it, whether by design or inadvertence.”
Agreeing with Kennedy, Chief Justice John Roberts declared, “The First Amendment protects more than just the individual on a soapbox and the lonely pamphleteer.” He, like Kennedy, insisted that corporations should be treated like persons.
In his dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens attacked the majority opinion that the First Amendment applies to corporations. “Corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires. Corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their ‘personhood’ often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of ‘We the People’ by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.”
Sadly, Stevens did not prevail, and the majority decision has ushered in the age of the super political action committees, or super PACs — independent and shadowy political organizations that can flood unlimited campaign money into local races with television ads and influence the outcome. In the end, candidates for office lose control over their campaign when secret entities enter the fray with their big money.
Although this issue knows no political party or ideology, nine of the 10 largest super PACs are conservative. And to counter this, President Obama’s campaign plans to raise $1 billion in public contributions.
Meanwhile, television advertising for the 2012 presidential campaign is expected to exceed $3 billion.
In America, we’re supposed to have one person, one vote. But in reality, corporations have more than a single vote. They rig the system in their favor because they essentially buy elected officials.
Thankfully, people are fighting back against unlimited corporate influence in elections.
City councils in Los Angeles, New York and elsewhere have passed resolutions expressing disapproval of Citizens United, declaring that corporations do not have the same legal rights as natural persons, that money is not free speech and that campaign spending should be regulated.
There is also a move afoot to amend the Constitution to declare, once and for all, that corporations are not persons and are not entitled to spend money to alter the outcome of political races. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has already introduced such an amendment.
Ultimately, we must decide if we are a government for the people — or for the corporations.
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