By Deb Hogshead
As we enter the 2020 election year, let’s take time to reflect on the impact of a U.S. Supreme Court decision made 10 years ago.
The decision was the Jan. 21, 2010 ruling in Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission, in which the majority said the government cannot restrict 1st Amendment rights of corporate entities to spend money to create political messages for or against candidates as long as their favored candidates are not involved.
The impact has been the inordinate amounts of money — including dark money — used to produce attack ads and misleading media campaigns to persuade you and me to elect candidates who will support the agendas of big-time donors—agendas that typically benefit the ultrawealthy and large corporations over the rest of us.
Across the country, people know money buys access to elected representatives and political influence.
According to a 2018 report from the Pew Research Center, 74 percent of survey respondents said it’s important that big donors not have more influence than the rest of us; yet, 72 percent suggested big donors do indeed have a louder voice; and 77 percent said there should be limits on how much money individuals and groups can spend on campaigns.
It’s going to take a constitutional amendment to reverse the impact of Citizens United. But it’s not just about money spent on political speech. In fact, reversing Citizens United would solve only some of our problems. As long as the Supreme Court continues to rule that corporate entities are people with constitutional rights, these entities — birthed by the state through charters — will claim other constitutional rights in addition to 1st Amendment ones. For example, suppose Troy residents and local small businesses object to having another big-box chain store come to town. If the case were taken to court, Troy residents would likely lose because the big-box chain store could claim 14th Amendment protections that allow it equal opportunity to be a part of the community, even though its presence might threaten the vitality of local small businesses and the quality of life.
Move to Amend — a national, nonpartisan, grassroots coalition — was started in 2009 in anticipation of Citizens United. Its members understand that corporate entities play an important role in society and warrant privileges and protections. But corporate entities should not have a louder voice than we do when it comes to decisions that affect our lives. And decisions about corporate privileges and protections should be made by we the people, through our elected representatives, not by the Supreme Court.
Through the advocacy of Move to Amend volunteers and their legislators, a proposed amendment is already before Congress. House Joint Resolution 48, with 67 co-sponsors, makes clear that constitutional rights belong to human beings only and that money spent in elections is not a protected form of speech and shall be regulated — a critical first step in conserving democracy.
So, let’s reflect on the impact of Citizens United: Should corporations, as creations of the state, have constitutional rights and power over people? And is money speech or property? If money is speech, does that mean speech is not free? If money is property, does that mean only people who have it can be heard?
And let’s encourage our representatives at all levels of government to support the democratic ideals of HJR 48.