Overturn Citizens United
Eleven years ago on Jan. 21, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court, in its Citizens United vs. FEC decision, ruled that corporations and other groups had a right to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections. This gave the wealthy, corporations and other entities even more influence on our government.
The court built on years of precedent. stating that political donations were protected speech and that corporations had constitutional rights by combining the two concepts to allow corporate donations in any amount as long as there was no direct coordination with political campaigns. The court stated that absent coordination and because disclosure laws allow the public to see who is donating, the risk of corruption was minimal.
The reality was that this ruling greatly expanded the influence of the wealthy while allowing them to avoid disclosure by donating to nonprofits not required to disclose their donors. It even potentially allowed for influence from foreign countries to be hidden from American voters and enforcement agencies.
Fortunately, even absent a Supreme Court willing to overturn itself, there are still ways to address this problem.
The most permanent way to overturn this decision is to amend the U.S. Constitution to clearly state that political contributions are not protected speech and the corporations do not have constitutional rights. Not an easy task, to be sure. This would require a two-thirds vote in Congress followed by ratification by three-fourths of the states (or for two-thirds of the state legislatures to propose an amendment followed by ratification by three-fourths of the states). This is a long-term, uphill battle since it requires the support of legislators who have become dependent on their donors to get elected.
Shorter-term measures can help even things out while a constitutional amendment is being pushed through. Publicly funded elections would help increase the influence of small donors, especially if we can match their donations with public funds. Disclosure laws that don’t allow secret donations would help voters know who is supporting candidates and ballot measures. Reforming the FEC to allow stronger enforcement of the existing laws would also help.
A majority of Americans of all political persuasions support reforms that would rein in corruption. How can you help? Contact your member of Congress to express support for reform legislation such as House Joint Resolution 48, We the People Act or S.443, The Disclose Act. Make your voice heard.