SUPREME COURT DECISION • Unlimited spending tilts playing field and will corrupt politics
January 25, 2010
The U.S. Supreme Court's lamentable 5-4 decision last week to sweep away a century of practice and precedent and allow torrents of corporate money to flood elections threatens to make our political system even more the playground of the rich at the expense of the average citizen.
Congress and President Barack Obama must do all they can to temper or reverse the baleful impact of the decision by the court's conservative majority.
As a result of the decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, corporations have a right to spend as much money as they want — right up to the point the polls open — to advocate for or against a specific candidate. Could a Sen. Smith or a Congressman Cooper possibly refuse to play ball with the corporate big spenders? Not likely.
Until the landmark ruling Thursday, corporations and unions were barred from spending their own money on broadcast ads, campaign workers or billboards urging the election or defeat of a candidate for federal office. Limits on corporate contributions to candidates have been in place since 1907, courtesy of the reformer President Teddy Roosevelt.
But the restrictions that have helped to level the campaign playing field for more than 100 years were swept away in one overreaching swoop by a court majority whose supporters often inveigh against the evils of judicial activism. This was judicial activism, in spades.
Chief Justice John Roberts, it turns out, is a dangerous hypocrite, a wolf in sheep's clothing. At his confirmation hearings, Mr. Roberts promised to be judicially "modest," respect precedent and simply "call balls and strikes."
There was nothing modest about this decision, which bulldozed precedent and was a seismic shift in the political playing field favoring concentrations of great wealth.
The conservative majority cast the case as a First Amendment issue. The five justices said they were merely extending the right of political speech to where it had unconstitutionally been denied. It's a bogus argument. Corporations aren't people entitled to the free-speech rights that humans enjoy. In most cases, officers, directors and shareholders of corporations can make individual donations — which are limited — to political causes, just like the rest of us. Their free speech rights had not been trampled on.
The court majority unjustly gave the rights of citizens to entities that exist only on paper, and thus gave deep corporate pockets the legal right to hijack elections.
The decision Thursday was no good. It's bad for political parties. It's bad for citizens who now will have even less impact than ever on elections. It's bad for democracy.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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