'Citizens United' Decision Further Weakens U.S. Democracy

Source:  OpEdNews

January 22, 2010

The Supreme Court Decision Further Weakens Our Democracy

By Ralph Nader

Yesterday's 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission shreds the fabric of our already weakened democracy by allowing corporations to more completely dominate our corrupted electoral process. It is outrageous that corporations already attempt to influence or bribe our political candidates through their political action committees (PACs), which solicit employees and shareholders for donations.

With this decision, corporations can now directly pour vast amounts of corporate money, through independent expenditures, into the electoral swamp already flooded with corporate campaign PAC contribution dollars. Without approval from their shareholders, corporations can reward or intimidate people running for office at the local, state, and national levels.

Much of this 183 page opinion requires readers to enter into a fantasy world and accept the twisted logic of Justice Kennedy, who delivered the opinion of the Court, joined by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Scalia, Alito, and Thomas. Imagine the majority saying the "Government may not suppress political speech based on the speaker's corporate identity."

Perhaps Justice Kennedy didn't hear that the financial sector invested more than $5 billion in political influence purchasing in Washington over the past decade, with as many as 3,000 lobbyists winning deregulation and other policy decisions that led directly to the current financial collapse, according to a 231-page report titled: "Sold Out: How Wall Street and Washington Betrayed America" (See:

The Center for Responsive Politics reported that last year the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $144 million to influence Congress and state legislatures.

The Center also reported big lobbying expenditures by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) which spent $26 million in 2009. Drug companies like Pfizer, Amgen and Eli Lilly also poured tens of millions of dollars into federal lobbying in 2009. The health insurance industry trade group America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) also spent several million lobbying Congress. No wonder Single Payer Health insurance - supported by the majority of people, doctors, and nurses - isn't moving in Congress.

Energy companies like ExxonMobil and Chevron are also big spenders. No wonder we have a national energy policy that is pro-fossil fuel and that does little to advance renewable energy (See: OpenSecrets.Org).

No wonder we have the best Congress money can buy.

I suppose Justice Kennedy thinks corporations that overwhelm members of Congress with campaign contributions need to have still more influence in the electoral arena. Spending millions to lobby Congress and making substantial PAC contributions just isn't enough for a majority of the Supreme Court. The dictate by the five activist Justices was too much for even Republican Senator John McCain, who commented that he was troubled by their "extreme naivete."

There is a glimmer of hope and a touch of reality in yesterday's Supreme Court decision. Unfortunately it is the powerful 90 page dissent in this case by Justice Stevens joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor. Justice Stevens recognizes the power corporations wield in our political economy. Justice Stevens finds it "absurd to think that the First Amendment prohibits legislatures from taking into account the corporate identity of a sponsor of electoral advocacy." He flatly declares that, "The Court's ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation."

He notes that the, Framers of our Constitution "had little trouble distinguishing corporations from human beings, and when they constitutionalized the right to free speech in the First Amendment, it was the free speech of individual Americans that they had in mind." Right he is, for the words "corporation" or "company" do not exist in our Constitution.

Justice Stevens concludes his dissent as follows:

"At bottom, the Court's opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics."

Indeed, this corporatist, anti-voter majority decision is so extreme that it should galvanize a grassroots effort to enact a simple Constitutional amendment to once and for all end corporate personhood and curtail the corrosive impact of big money on politics. It is time to prevent corporate campaign contributions from commercializing our elections and drowning out the voices and values of citizens and voters. It is way overdue to overthrow "King Corporation" and restore the sovereignty of "We the People"! Remember that corporations, chartered by the state, are our servants, not our masters.

Legislation sponsored by Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Representative John Larson (D-CT) would encourage unlimited small-dollar donations from individuals and provide candidates with public funding in exchange for refusing corporate contributions or private contributions of more than $100.

It is also time for shareholder resolutions, company by company, directing the corporate boards of directors to pledge not to use company money to directly favor or oppose candidates for public office.

If you want to join the efforts to rollback the corporate concessions the Supreme Court made yesterday, visit Citizen.Org and

Move to Amend 'Citizens United' and Abolish Corporate Personhood


Republished here as a public service with full attribution to the originating source,

Learn More

The Supreme Court decision in Citizens United is here:

Read the opinions, and you will see why Justice Stevens, in his dissent, was compelled to state the obvious:

. . . . 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.

Like to learn more? Here are some good places to begin . . .

~ History of the Corporation ~
~ The Need for Constitutional Reform ~
~ Building a Democracy Movement ~

History of the Corporation

Sourcewatch: Corporate Rights
This special SourceWatch page has links to the real story about the Supreme Court's revolutionary and unconstitutional decision to asserting that federal laws cannot limit corporate "speech."

Abolish Corporate Personhood
This speech, given by Molly Morgan of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, follows the history of corporate power from the American Revolution to the present, detailing the ways in which the powerful elite have used the Constitution, the Courts and the corporation to quash the rights of We the People.

The Democracy Crisis
In this PowerPoint presentation, Riki Ott--a marine biologist and toxicologist from Alaska who fought Exxon for twenty years after the Valdez oil spill--shows that the spill was not just an ecological crisis, but a manifestation of a democracy crisis.

Corporatization: An Internal Clash of Civilizations
The authors write that, "Within the framework of U.S. constitutional law, in which personhood conveys fundamental protections against state action, the dubious doctrine of corporate personhood has allowed corporations to gain constitutional insulation from democratic control of corporate investment in key activities, including electioneering, lobbying, advertising, resource extraction, and manufacturing."

The "Right" to Harm the Environment
Jan Edwards and Alis Valencia use this article to make the connection between corporate personhood and the destruction of the environment, going through the Bill of Rights and citing specific instances in which corporations used these rights to devastate the planet and local

Taking Care of Business
Richard Grossman explains the history of corporate rule, contrasting it with the power of state legislators to control corporations and offering specific stories of states exercising their power to reign in corporate power. Explains the relationship between the Supreme Court and corporate constitutional rights, and explains how to use the state charter power to abolish those rights.

The Essence of the Corporation
Ben Manski follows the legal history of the corporation from the ancient world to the early days of the Republic in order to understand its essence.

The Need for Constitutional Reform

Significant Cases in the Evolution of Corporate "Rights"
Reclaim Democracy has developed an excellent compendium of 20th century federal court decisions that have expanded federal protections for corporations against the public good.

This timeline by Jan Edwards lays out the cases that gave corporations the
rights of persons and compares it to the struggles for rights for actual

Voting Rights Amendment
Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., is the lead sponsor of the Right to Vote Amendment, knows that, "In a democracy there is nothing more fundamental than having the right to vote."

Voter Bill of Rights
The Voter Bill of Rights is a document embraced by hundreds of voting rights organizations. It was originally a product of the 2001 Democracy Summer program, following the election debacle of 2000. It was amended for the 2004 No Stolen Elections! campaign, and amended again for the No More Stolen Elections! campaign in 2008.

Why So Many Good State Laws Are "Unconstitutional"
Corporate anthropologist Jane Anne Morris writes that, "Using the commerce clause, the "free trade" mantra of the time, they decided that states could not ban the manufacture, import, and sale of a substance that obviously many states wanted to ban. In other words [the] . . . . Supreme Court acted as a legislature."

Municipal Government and Local Democracy
As provided by CELDF, J. Allen Smith informed us in 1907 that, "The powerful corporate interests engaged in the exploitation of municipal franchises are securely entrenched behind a series of constitutional and legal checks on the majority which makes it extremely difficult for public opinion to exercise any effective control over them."

Why Regulation Alone Won't Work
Regulatory agencies are often controlled by the industries they were formed to regulate. There is even a term for the phenomenon-- "regulatory capture." And a captured regulatory agency that serves the interests of the corporations that are supposed to regulate--with the power of the government behind them-- is very often worse than no regulation whatsoever. Corporate anthropologist Jane Anne Morris describes the history, and suggests what to do about it.

Building a Democracy Movement

Extending Democracy
In this video, Ben Manski, Diane Farsetta and Kevin Alexander Gray join the Progressive Magazine in addressing the challenge of extending democracy in the United States:

How and Why the People of Humboldt County Defended Local Democracy
Katilin Sopoci-Belknap, co-campaign manager the Measure T initiative banning
corporate money in local elections, speaks at a community forum about the
history of corporate power. She describes how corporations seized our First
Amendment right to free speech, equated speech with money and hijacked the
ability of communities to govern and defend themselves against abuse.

SCOTUS: Corporate Purchase of Elections = 'Free Speech'


Freespeech for

"On January 21, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations are entitled to spend unlimited funds in our elections. The First Amendment was never intended to protect corporations.

This cannot stand. Join our campaign to protest this decision. Protect our democracy! Free speech is for people — not corporations." is a campaign sponsored by Voter Action (, Public Citizen (, the Center for Corporate Policy (  and American Independent Business Alliance ( to restore the First Amendment's free speech guarantees for the people, and to preserve and promote democracy and self-government.  We are joined by a growing wave of people around the country.

Responses to the  Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission  Supreme Court Ruling

Read the Freespeech for  press release responding to the Supreme Court decision issued January 21, 2010.

Read the Freespeech for People constitutional  draft amendment.

Read the Supreme Court ruling.

Listen to press call on Supreme Court decision.

Read background articles  . . . Resources continue @ Read More

Foreign Contributions and the Supreme's Overdue Decision on Campaign Funding

Fat Cat

Michael Collins

The Supreme Court of the United States will soon announce a major decision on our lightly controlled system of campaign funding.  Will it retain some limitations on corporate influence or will the court blow the lid off and cause a perpetual flood of unrestricted corporate contributions?

An additional outcome may surprise and shock the public.

If the Supreme Court overturns the lower court's decision, foreign nationals, corporations, and governments with partial ownership of U.S. corporations will, in effect, end up contributing to and influencing U.S. candidates in federal elections.

The Supreme Court surprised many when it agreed to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling that enforced key sections of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (McCain-Feingold) -- Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission (FEC).

In January 2008, the Federal District Court, District of Columbia upheld an FEC action that barred Citizens United, a right wing nonprofit corporation, from airing an extended attack on Hillary Clinton called Hillary: The Movie. Citizens United is headed by David Bossie, a well known political enemy of the Clintons.  Citizens' lead counsel, Ted Olsen, is an alumnus of the infamous 1990's Clinton bashing Arkansas Project.

The lower court found The Movie violated provisions of McCain-Feingold since some funding for the movie came from the general treasury of Citizens United, rather than a segregated account for political action, e.g., a Political Action Committee (PAC).  The Movie had the sole purpose of convincing viewers that Clinton was unfit for office, making it an example of electioneering communications -- the overriding purpose of which are to advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate.  And The Movie was planned for broadcast both 30 days prior to Democratic primaries and 60 days prior to the general election (had Clinton won the nomination), blackout periods for electioneering communications.

In its appeal, Citizens argued that broadcast restrictions in McCain-Feingold should be overturned to allow unrestricted electioneering communications funded directly from corporate treasuries.

But the appeal also served as a vehicle for lifting virtually any ban on corporate giving.  In 1990, the Supreme Court ruled that corporate funding of campaigns from general funds could be restricted.  The heart of the decision is found here:

"they (the Michigan laws) are justified by a compelling state interest: preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption in the political arena by reducing the threat that huge corporate treasuries, which are amassed with the aid of favorable state laws and have little or no correlation to the public's support for the corporation's political ideas, will be used to influence unfairly election outcomesJustice Marshall, Austin v. Mich. Chamber of Comm., 1990

Lead counsel for Citizens United, Ted Olsen, argued that "Austin was wrongly decided and should be overruled."  He counters with another case that claimed,"First Amendment’s protection against governmental abridgment of free expression cannot properly be made to depend on a person’s financial ability to engage in public discussion.”  Ted Olsen, Merits Brief, p. 30, Sept. 9

This challenge to the Austin decision is the true threat within the Trojan horse argument over broadcast restrictions on political hit pieces.  The goal of this appeal is nothing less than the legal treatment of corporations as the equal of individual citizens and lesser groups in the political process resulting in an even greater advantage for corporations to control elections.

"We are the World"

During oral arguments before the court, Olson argued that McCain-Feingold unlawfully restricts the First Amendment rights of U.S. corporations.  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had this exchange with Olson:

MR. OLSON: What the Court has said in the First Amendment context, New York Times v. Sullivan, Rose Jean v. Associated Press, and over and over again, is that corporations are persons entitled to protection under the First Amendment.

JUSTICE GINSBURG: Would that include --

MR. OLSON: Now, Justice --

JUSTICE GINSBURG: Would that include today's mega-corporations, where many of the investors may be foreign individuals or entities?

MR. OLSON: The Court in the past has made no distinction based upon the nature of the entity that might own a share of a corporation.

JUSTICE GINSBURG: Own many shares?

MR. OLSON: Pardon?

JUSTICE GINSBURG: Nowadays there are foreign interests, even foreign governments that own not one share but a goodly number of shares.

Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, Oral Arguments, pp. 4, 5, Sept. 9, 2009

Justice Ginsburg created a poison pill by putting on notice any Supreme Court majority that overturns the lower court decision:  your actions will allow foreign funding for U.S. campaigns.  Any foreign entity could simply exercise an existing or newly acquired ownership position in a U.S. corporation to demand services from that corporation's latest wholly owned candidate.

The current bans on direct corporate contributions and contributions from foreign entities would become meaningless.  The influence of the "corrosive and distorting effects of immense aggregations of wealth" obtained through the control of puppet politicians would submit all of us to the vicissitudes of balance sheets and the salary and bonus demands of board chairmen all over the world (to an even greater degree than we now experience).

Supremes Green Light Foreign Money in U.S. Elections! How well will that fly with citizens in the current political climate?  Does the Supreme Court even care?

Class of 2000 Reunion

Two alumni of the Bush effort to stop the Florida 2000 recount, freeze in place various voting rights violations, and prevent any real judicial review of a flawed election are reunited in this case.  Chief Justice Roberts was recognized for his contributions to election chaos as then Florida Governor Jeb Bush's legal advisor.  His contributions were less than helpful.  Ted Olson represented George W. Bush in the Supreme Court case that stopped the recount.  He also served as a key strategist for George W. Bush's Florida 2000 recount efforts.

How coincidental that Chief Justice Roberts reached out to his Bush campaign 2000 alumnus Olson by agreeing to hear a case that surprised many when it was selected for the Supreme Court docket.

How ironic that the case presents the opportunity to bring corporate funding into U.S. politics in a way that would end any pretences of democracy as we know it.  History waited just nine years to repeat itself.


N.B.  Wouldn't a reasonable person conclude that Fox News violates the McCain-Feingold Act on a regular basis?  Link

This article may be reproduced in part or in whole with attribution of authorship and a link to this article.Foreign Contributions and the  Supreme's Overdue Decision on Campaign Funding

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