Thursday, January 21, 2010

Supreme Court: Corporations Can Spend Money Freely in Elections

The Supreme Court just handed down a decision that is a setback for those advocating for restrictions on campaign financing. From The Hill:

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday struck down major provisions of campaign finance reform, though it remained to be seen if its decision represents a revolution in money and politics.

The court upheld disclosure requirements for corporations but also struck down the distinction between individual expenditures and corporate ones.

That should allow corporations to spend freely in support or opposition to candidates.

This decision is a big deal and really hasn't been covered that well in the corporate media. This decision allows for corporations to freely spend vast sums of money in order to support political candidates and will subsequently allow for corporate dollars to play an even larger role in the political process.

Here is part of the statement by Robert Weissman, the President of the group Public Citizen who played a key role in this case:

Shed a tear for our democracy.

Today, in the case Citizens United v. FEC, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence election outcomes.

Money from Exxon, Goldman Sachs, Pfizer and the rest of the Fortune 500 is already corroding the policy making process in Washington, state capitals and city halls. Today, the Supreme Court tells these corporate giants that they have a constitutional right to trample our democracy.


The court has invented the idea that corporations have First Amendment rights to influence election outcomes out of whole cloth. There is surely no originalist interpretation to support this outcome, since the court created the rights only in recent decades. Nor can the outcome be justified in light of the underlying purpose and spirit of the First Amendment. Corporations are state-created entities, not real people. They do not have expressive interests like humans; and, unlike humans, they are uniquely motivated by a singular focus on their economic bottom line. Corporate spending on elections defeats rather than advances the democratic thrust of the First Amendment.

I couldn't agree more. When corporations are protected by the First Amendment and are viewed as having interests that are comparable to the average citizen, you are just asking for more of an alliance between business and politics. The influence of lobbyists and corporations have been felt for years on issues of policy and even in elections, but this ruling today opens up the door for a tidal wave of corporate dollars to be spent on candidates that will stand up for policies that will not interrupt the bottom line.

Democracy did take a hit today and all those who value greater public participation in the political process should have serious concerns.