Thursday, January 28, 2010

The real storm begins: Citizens United v. FEC

After being sick most of December with my first ever bout with bronchitis and the start of session, it is hard to find time to blog. However, with the recent decision in Citizens vs. Federal Elections Commission I feel compelled to vent my thoughts. This decisison has the potential to go down as one of the worst decision by the Court. Time will tell, but clearly corporations as well as unions, now have the greenlight to raid their treasuries for use in influencing elections. They no longer have to go through the process of setting up separate PAC's and following rules pertaining to those. Interestingly, this decision is seen as primarily mostly benefiting Republicans who are perceived to be aligned more with "business." However, some quick research shows that a variety of groups filed amicus curie (friend of the court) briefs in support of Citizen's United. These include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, AFL-CIO, NRA and the Cato Institute not to mention various individuals such as Senator Mitch McConnell. Those filing briefs in support of the Federal Elections Commission (and presumably arguing for the constitutionality of the campaign finance laws at issue) include Senator John McCain, League of Women Voters, and American Independent Business Alliance.

Desite this list of "odd bedfellows", the decision is bad for Republicans, Democrats, Liberals, Conservatives, Joe the plumber, and for everyone else to boot. This is not a free speech issue. This is a "corporate issue". Corporations are not natural born individuals - they are creatures of statute. To say they have a virtually unfettered right under the First Amendment to get involved in elections is to misunderstand the very nature of these entities. As creatures of statute (and born of ink and paper) they exist because we say they can exist. We endow them with certain rights and special powers (such as liability protection for shareholders and the ability to exist perpetually) to help further our citizens - the natural born ones- in the pursuit of economic activity. Corporations are a tool for furthering the public good. This decision enables the "tail to wag the dog." Corporations will now be able to turn their attention even more to politics and use their massive wealth (which we enable through our corporate and tax laws) to influence elections for the benefit of their own commercial ends. As former Justice Sandra Day O'Conner noted, we are now likely to see an escalating "political arms race". We will all be the worse off.

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