End Citizens United: Supreme Court Urged to Stop Corporate Financing of U.S. Elections

Citizens groups across the U.S. are harnessing local energy this week to push back on an issue of national proportions.  

Their target is the 2010 Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which paved the way for corporations, associations, unions, and wealthy individuals to make unlimited financial contributions to Super Political Action Committees. 

The result of the Supreme Court’s decision has been a flood of big money swirling around local, state, and federal elections. As of June 2012, 589 Super PACs have collected $220,054,152 and spent $121,438,396, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Opponents of the ruling have been outspoken:

• Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) said that “the influence of money in politics is the single biggest threat to our democracy.”

• Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) condemned the Citizens United decision as an “outrage” that will undoubtedly lead to a “scandal.”

• Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) blamed the influence of Super PACS for “Congress spend[ing] day and night worrying about the wealthy and powerful, and forgetting about the middle-class and working families.”

• Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D- Ariz.) reflected that “giving corporations the authority to buy elections is a step we’ll regret for decades to come.”

Organizers of Resolutions Week hear a similar refrain at the local level, and they hope to turn this into action. Between June 11 and 15, they aim to have at least 100 city councils, boards of aldermen, and state legislatures adopt formal resolutions calling for a Constitutional amendment to overturn what Citizens United put in place.  

They say that 200 local governments have already passed such resolutions; achieving this week’s goal will significantly advance the cause. 

Activities of the week include a teach-in in Wichita, Kansas; a celebration at the state capitol in Raleigh, North Carolina; educational forums in Berkeley, Los Angeles, and Irvine, California; and more.

The events are being coordinated by the national nonprofit Public Citizen, in cooperation with a long list of partners, including Common Cause, People for the American Way, and the Coffee Party.

Resolutions Week sponsors are organizing against a backdrop of growing awareness and opposition to Citizens United, which has been sharpened as voters see Super PACs in action in the 2012 election cycle.  

Nearly seven of ten (69%) Americans indicated in a recent poll by the Opinion Research Corporation that “new rules that let corporations, unions, and people give unlimited money to Super PACs will lead to corruption” and may, in fact, “undermine Americans’ faith in democracy.”

Some states are of the same conviction. Montana’s Corrupt Practices Act has prohibited corporate financing of elections since 1912. In the face of Citizens United, the Montana Supreme Court upheld the state law in 2011.  

This action was blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court in February of this year. It is clear, however, that questions about the wisdom of the Citizens United decision have risen to the level of the Court.  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote that “Montana’s experience, and experience elsewhere since this court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, make it exceedingly difficult to maintain that independent expenditures by corporations ‘do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” 

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to respond to the Montana case this month.  Their decision is being closely awaited by 22 other states and the District of Columbia, which have urged the justices to uphold the Montana state ruling. 

Despite a chorus of sympathetic voices, Resolutions Week is to Citizens United what David was to Goliath. We won’t see a total victory this week, but in the longer-term, might the story have a similar ending?

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Blair Forlaw

Blair Forlaw is an economic development freelancer with a special interest in talent development and the changing world of work. She supports business, government, professional organizations, and non-profits in crafting new approaches to workforce challenges. Blair is a member of No Labels, a national movement of nearly 500,000 citizens who are pushing back on hyper-partisanship with an action plan to restore common-sense, bi-partisan problem-solving in Washington.

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