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Posts Tagged ‘Citizens United’

In a 5-4 decision the United States Supreme Court has made bribing political candidates legal.  Locally, when a developer is denied approval to build another subdivision, now corporate headquarters can turn around and fund the election of someone who will vote for it.  Nationally, the awarding of federal contracts to campaign supporters will no longer go on under the table with risks of ethics violations and possible criminal charges, now it can be done out in the open.    

 The case at issue is Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission, No. 08-205.  This case involves a negative movie about Hilary Clinton that was released during the primaries.  Citizens United, who produced the film, lost a case against the FEC which had prevented them from showing the film on a cable TV channel and from advertising the movie on TV. The lower court found that the McCain-Feingold campaign finance laws did apply to the movie.  Although the case went to the Supreme Court on these narrow grounds, mainly whether the campaign finance laws were meant to apply to documentary-style movies, the Court took the unusual step of holding a second set of arguments to address whether two previous campaign finance law cases should be overruled.  Although this case is sad for many reasons, I am especially sad that former-Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was not able to guide the court to a more palatable result.   Essentially, the majority threw out campaign finance laws and decided that the federal government can no longer ban corporations from spending money on political campaigns.

 Justice Kennedy stated in the majority opinion: “If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in free speech.”  Hold on, Emily Litella, since when is a corporation an “association of citizens.”  The last time I checked, they were state-chartered entities organized for the purpose of operating a business, making a profit, and sheltering the organizers of the business from personal liability.  I don’t think anyone would mistake one for an “associations of citizens.”  This decision is a travesty on a number of levels, but as I discussed with my classes today, corporations are not humans.  Thomas Jefferson stated: “A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, .  .  .”  These rights are human rights, essential to our type of government.  They should not be cheapened by their extension to corporations.  (I do understand that corporations have been given “rights” over the years by the Supreme Court, starting with Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company.  I just don’t agree with that line of decisions.  And while I agree with Stevens’s Dissent in Citizens, I don’t agree with his adherence to the “corporations are people too” position.) 

This case is not just about campaign finance laws; it is about the power that corporations have amassed over the years.  Do you really want Xe Services, LLC, f/k/a Blackwater, choosing your next President?   When my students ask me, why doesn’t anybody do anything about this stuff?  I tell them, we are like frogs in a pot of water that has slowly been turned to boiling.  The changes happen so gradually, that we don’t know we are cooked until it is too late.  Let’s notice this change.  Let’s do something about it.

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