This week marks the two year anniversary of the United States Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a decision that drastically changed the ways in which corporations may participate in elections in our country.
The Supreme Court issued Citizens United in a 5-4 decision on Jan. 21, 2010. It overturned two longstanding precedents that allowed government to limit political spending by corporations in candidate elections – giving corporations the constitutional right, under free speech, to spend unlimited sums of money to influence elections without disclosure.
The Citizens United decision also moves us one step closer to corporate personhood, giving corporations constitutional rights and the ability to dominate the political process and influence the most critical issues that impact our everyday lives and defeat critical policies that protect people.
There are two major flaws with this decision: rights recognized under the Constitution belong to human beings only, not corporations, and political campaign spending is not a form of speech protected under the First Amendment.
State and local efforts across the country to overturn Citizens United are gaining momentum. Three weeks ago, the Montana Supreme Court upheld a century-old state law that bans corporate spending in state and local political campaigns, holding that corporate money in elections gives rise to corruption in the political process.
In Minnesota, a bill has been introduced that, if passed by the legislature and voters, would amend our state’s constitution to specifically designate that only people are, in fact, people. Thus corporations could not argue that they benefit from the rights spelled out in our constitution.
On the federal level, similar legislation has also been proposed that would reverse the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 opinion in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. I encourage you to contact our state’s federal representatives and urge them to support this legislation and firmly establish that money is not speech, and only human beings, not corporations, are entitled to constitutional rights.
Another proposal that has been introduced in Minnesota would reform our campaign finance reporting system to bring sunshine and accountability to the reporting process. The bill requires all political and campaign committees and political funds that have received or spent more than $5,000 in a year to file quarterly with the campaign finance board. Currently, powerful special interests are able to contribute thousands of dollars to legislators and legislative caucuses the day before session begins and hide in anonymity while the legislation they support is voted on.
The public has a right to know when corporations donate large sums of money to influence elections. This legislation simply makes it easier for the public to keep track of when, and how much, corporate cash is being spent. It’s in the best interest of all Minnesota voters to have more transparent and open campaign finance laws.
As Justice Stevens said in his dissent to Citizens United, corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of human beings, to be sure, but they are not themselves members of “We the People” by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.
Americans are rightly alarmed by the Citizens United decision and all of its implications for our system of government. We have a tremendous opportunity to organize a movement against corporate involvement in campaigns and I encourage you to get involved in this movement.