In a landmark 2010 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court in its Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision declared that corporations are people and that the money they spend to influence elections is the same as free speech. By a 5-4 vote, the court ignored precedent and overturned decades of restrictions on corporate campaign contributions, allowing campaign contributions to be unlimited and anonymous. The conservative majority determined that corporations have the same free-speech rights as people and can therefore spend as much as they like on political campaigns. Several elections later, we now have a glimpse of what the future may hold for the primary and general elections in 2012 – record amounts of anonymous donations flooding the campaign coffers of closely contested elections and elbowing out the influence of average voters.
President Obama famously rebuked the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling during a State of the Union address while looking directly at the Supreme Court justices in attendance. “I don’t think the American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities,” the president said. “They should be decided by the American people.”
The speed at which corporations, organizations and groups not directly tied to a candidate or political party are spending millions to influence elections is of great concern to me, and it begs the question: Do corporations now have more rights than people in this country?
Today, there are plenty of reasons why we should be concerned about the fact that corporations have more influence and power over politicians than the people these leaders are elected to represent. When corporations can spend freely on elections, politicians cannot properly support the well-being of the people while fearing the financial backlash of corporate money going toward defeating them in the next election. Simply put, the Citizens United decision has dramatically diluted the voice of every American who does not control a large corporate treasury, and has unleashed billions of dollars in corporate money to dominate elections at all levels of government.
And though politically this issue has been masked as partisan, the implications of this decision transcend party lines and political ideology. People from all over the political spectrum have expressed the need to pass a constitutional amendment that puts people ahead of corporations, and re-establishes this country as by and for the people. This outcry has manifested itself in several ways, but none more important than state and municipal-level resolutions that call for the end of corporate personhood and elevate the voices of Americans all over the country to a level that can be heard by Congress. These efforts have sprung up in cities like New York City; Los Angeles; Oakland, Calif.; Duluth, Minn.; and Chapel Hill, N.C. and in state legislatures in California, Maryland, Vermont, and Massachusetts. In addition, more than 1 million people have signed petitions expressing their support for an amendment, and more than 300 protest events were hosted on the two-year anniversary of the decision last week.
Momentum around this issue is growing. If we really want to change the political landscape around the country we need to collectively decide “who” or “what” is more important – the rights of individuals or the rights of corporations that have unlimited funds and influence. The Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission decision has disrupted the key elements of our democracy and allows money and power to control America. We need to join this growing movement, and tell Congress to intervene and reverse this horrible act against the American people.