The Supreme Court’s recent slim majority decision in Citizens United has opened floodgates that long prevented corporate cash from drowning out the voices of American citizens in election campaigns. Those who care about the integrity of the American political process view this decision with concern and astonishment.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing about this misguided decision Wednesday. The ruling continues an increasingly clear pattern of the court’s activist conservative bloc. First, decisions are by a narrow 5-4 majority. Second, decisions overrule well-established law and well-settled precedent. Third, the outcome favors corporations, the rich and the powerful.
The Constitution has long been understood to allow Congress to protect elections from the corrupting influence of corporate cash. As President Barack Obama has observed, the principle embodied in the 1907 Tillman Act — that inanimate business corporations, creatures of our laws, are not free to spend unlimited dollars to influence election campaigns — has been an established cornerstone of our political system for more than 100 years.
The five-justice conservative bloc of the Supreme Court tossed that principle aside, baldly denying any risk of election corruption, despite numerous congressional findings to the contrary. As my colleague Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said: “The Supreme Court [has] predetermined the winners of next November’s elections. It won’t be Republicans. It won’t be Democrats. It will be corporate America.”
I look forward to working with Schumer to limit the harmful effects of the Citizens United opinion: to prevent foreign corporations from influencing U.S. elections; to ban pay-to-play spending by government contractors; to strengthen disclosure laws that ensure voters know who is funding the ads they see; and to enhance corporate disclosure of election spending.
Elections are the lifeblood of democracy. The U.S. Constitution is established by and for “We the People of the United States.” Humans are clearly different from artificial corporations. And nothing in the Constitution gives CEOs the right to amplify their voices over all of ours through the corporations they control.
The activist conservative bloc, currently driving the court to the right, does not seem to appreciate this foundational, common-sense principle of our republic — at least not when corporate interests are concerned.
The court should return to its proper role of providing justice to all Americans, not just the privileged few.
Well done, Senator. Well done.