Today editorials appeared in The New York Times entitled “The Court’s Blow to Democracy” and The Washington Post entitled “The Supreme Court removes important limits on campaign finance.”


The New York Times
The Court’s Blow to Democracy
Editorial
January 22, 2010

With a single, disastrous 5-to-4 ruling, the Supreme Court has thrust politics back to the robber-baron era of the 19th century. Disingenuously waving the flag of the First Amendment, the court’s conservative majority has paved the way for corporations to use their vast treasuries to overwhelm elections and intimidate elected officials into doing their bidding.

Congress must act immediately to limit the damage of this radical decision, which strikes at the heart of democracy.

As a result of Thursday’s ruling, corporations have been unleashed from the longstanding ban against their spending directly on political campaigns and will be free to spend as much money as they want to elect and defeat candidates. If a member of Congress tries to stand up to a wealthy special interest, its lobbyists can credibly threaten: We’ll spend whatever it takes to defeat you.

The ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission radically reverses well-established law and erodes a wall that has stood for a century between corporations and electoral politics. (The ruling also frees up labor unions to spend, though they have far less money at their disposal.)

The founders of this nation warned about the dangers of corporate influence. The Constitution they wrote mentions many things and assigns them rights and protections — the people, militias, the press, religions. But it does not mention corporations.

In 1907, as corporations reached new heights of wealth and power, Congress made its views of the relationship between corporations and campaigning clear: It banned them from contributing to candidates. At midcentury, it enacted the broader ban on spending that was repeatedly reaffirmed over the decades until it was struck down on Thursday.

This issue should never have been before the court. The justices overreached and seized on a case involving a narrower, technical question involving the broadcast of a movie that attacked Hillary Rodham Clinton during the 2008 campaign. The court elevated that case to a forum for striking down the entire ban on corporate spending and then rushed the process of hearing the case at breakneck speed. It gave lawyers a month to prepare briefs on an issue of enormous complexity, and it scheduled arguments during its vacation.

Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., no doubt aware of how sharply these actions clash with his confirmation-time vow to be judicially modest and simply “call balls and strikes,” wrote a separate opinion trying to excuse the shameless judicial overreaching.

The majority is deeply wrong on the law. Most wrongheaded of all is its insistence that corporations are just like people and entitled to the same First Amendment rights. It is an odd claim since companies are creations of the state that exist to make money. They are given special privileges, including different tax rates, to do just that. It was a fundamental misreading of the Constitution to say that these artificial legal constructs have the same right to spend money on politics as ordinary Americans have to speak out in support of a candidate.

The majority also makes the nonsensical claim that, unlike campaign contributions, which are still prohibited, independent expenditures by corporations “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” If Wall Street bankers told members of Congress that they would spend millions of dollars to defeat anyone who opposed their bailout, and then did so, it would certainly look corrupt.

After the court heard the case, Senator John McCain told reporters that he was troubled by the “extreme naïveté” some of the justices showed about the role of special-interest money in Congressional lawmaking.

In dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens warned that the ruling not only threatens democracy but “will, I fear, do damage to this institution.” History is, indeed, likely to look harshly not only on the decision but the court that delivered it. The Citizens United ruling is likely to be viewed as a shameful bookend to Bush v. Gore. With one 5-to-4 decision, the court’s conservative majority stopped valid votes from being counted to ensure the election of a conservative president. Now a similar conservative majority has distorted the political system to ensure that Republican candidates will be at an enormous advantage in future elections.

Congress and members of the public who care about fair elections and clean government need to mobilize right away, a cause President Obama has said he would join. Congress should repair the presidential public finance system and create another one for Congressional elections to help ordinary Americans contribute to campaigns. It should also enact a law requiring publicly traded corporations to get the approval of their shareholders before spending on political campaigns.

These would be important steps, but they would not be enough. The real solution lies in getting the court’s ruling overturned. The four dissenters made an eloquent case for why the decision was wrong on the law and dangerous. With one more vote, they could rescue democracy.


The Washington Post
The Supreme Court removes important limits on campaign finance
Editorial
January 22, 2010

FOR MORE THAN a century, Congress has recognized the danger of letting corporations use their wealth to wield undue influence in political campaigns. The Supreme Court had upheld these efforts. But Thursday, making a mockery of some justices’ pretensions to judicial restraint, the Supreme Court unnecessarily and wrongly ruled 5 to 4 that the constitutional guarantee of free speech means that corporations can spend unlimited sums to help elect favored candidates or defeat those they oppose. This, as the dissenting justices wrote, “threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the nation.”

This result was unnecessary because the court’s conservative majority — including supposed exemplars of judicial modesty — lunged to make a broad constitutional ruling when narrower grounds were available. It was wrong because nothing in the First Amendment dictates that corporations must be treated identically to people. And it was dangerous because corporate money, never lacking in the American political process, may now overwhelm both the contributions of individuals and the faith they may harbor in their democracy.

The majority found its pretext in the documentary “Hillary: The Movie,” produced by a conservative group called Citizens United and released during the 2008 primaries. Citizens United wanted to make the movie — “a feature-length negative advertisement,” the court termed it — available as a video-on-demand accessible through cable television. That brought into play a provision, part of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, that bars corporate and union political advertising close to the time of an election. That provision applied to Citizens United because the group is organized as a nonprofit corporation and because it takes a small amount of corporate donations. In our view, Citizens United should have been free to distribute the anti-Clinton documentary. The relevant McCain-Feingold provision could have been interpreted to permit such speech by a clearly ideological, as opposed to commercial, for-profit corporation.

Instead, the court’s five-member majority went much further. It overruled a 1990 decision that upheld a state law prohibiting independent corporate expenditures in political campaigns. It overruled its own 2003 decision upholding the same provision of McCain-Feingold that it struck down Thursday — so much for respect for precedent.

“We find no basis for the proposition that, in the context of political speech, the Government may impose restrictions on certain disfavored speakers,” the court said in an opinion by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. Rules against direct corporate contributions to candidates still stand, but corporations are now free to engage in unlimited independent expenditures, something that Congress has banned since 1947.

But the conclusion that corporations have free-speech protections — and they do — does not mandate that they be treated identically to actual persons. Corporations and labor unions, which by implication now also will be free to spend without limit, have not been “censored” or “banned” from engaging in political speech, as the court claimed; rather, they have been required to spend through political action committees, which raise money in limited amounts from employees and members. Reasonable limits on their electoral spending recognized what is obvious to anyone who has not gone to law school: There is a difference between a corporate person and a real person.

President Obama said Thursday that he wants a “forceful response” to the ruling. That will not be easy, given its grounding in the Constitution. The decision invalidates state laws restricting corporate spending, which exist in nearly half the states. On a federal level, Congress could take steps to ameliorate the decision’s impact, such as imposing stronger rules against coordination between campaigns and outside groups or lifting limits on the amount that political parties can spend in conjunction with their candidates. But the damage of Thursday’s ruling, under the false flag of free speech, will not be easily repaired.

 


The New York Times
The Court’s Blow to Democracy
Editorial
January 22, 2010

With a single, disastrous 5-to-4 ruling, the Supreme Court has thrust politics back to the robber-baron era of the 19th century. Disingenuously waving the flag of the First Amendment, the court’s conservative majority has paved the way for corporations to use their vast treasuries to overwhelm elections and intimidate elected officials into doing their bidding.

Congress must act immediately to limit the damage of this radical decision, which strikes at the heart of democracy.

As a result of Thursday’s ruling, corporations have been unleashed from the longstanding ban against their spending directly on political campaigns and will be free to spend as much money as they want to elect and defeat candidates. If a member of Congress tries to stand up to a wealthy special interest, its lobbyists can credibly threaten: We’ll spend whatever it takes to defeat you.

The ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission radically reverses well-established law and erodes a wall that has stood for a century between corporations and electoral politics. (The ruling also frees up labor unions to spend, though they have far less money at their disposal.)

The founders of this nation warned about the dangers of corporate influence. The Constitution they wrote mentions many things and assigns them rights and protections — the people, militias, the press, religions. But it does not mention corporations.

In 1907, as corporations reached new heights of wealth and power, Congress made its views of the relationship between corporations and campaigning clear: It banned them from contributing to candidates. At midcentury, it enacted the broader ban on spending that was repeatedly reaffirmed over the decades until it was struck down on Thursday.

This issue should never have been before the court. The justices overreached and seized on a case involving a narrower, technical question involving the broadcast of a movie that attacked Hillary Rodham Clinton during the 2008 campaign. The court elevated that case to a forum for striking down the entire ban on corporate spending and then rushed the process of hearing the case at breakneck speed. It gave lawyers a month to prepare briefs on an issue of enormous complexity, and it scheduled arguments during its vacation.

Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., no doubt aware of how sharply these actions clash with his confirmation-time vow to be judicially modest and simply “call balls and strikes,” wrote a separate opinion trying to excuse the shameless judicial overreaching.

The majority is deeply wrong on the law. Most wrongheaded of all is its insistence that corporations are just like people and entitled to the same First Amendment rights. It is an odd claim since companies are creations of the state that exist to make money. They are given special privileges, including different tax rates, to do just that. It was a fundamental misreading of the Constitution to say that these artificial legal constructs have the same right to spend money on politics as ordinary Americans have to speak out in support of a candidate.

The majority also makes the nonsensical claim that, unlike campaign contributions, which are still prohibited, independent expenditures by corporations “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” If Wall Street bankers told members of Congress that they would spend millions of dollars to defeat anyone who opposed their bailout, and then did so, it would certainly look corrupt.

After the court heard the case, Senator John McCain told reporters that he was troubled by the “extreme naïveté” some of the justices showed about the role of special-interest money in Congressional lawmaking.

In dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens warned that the ruling not only threatens democracy but “will, I fear, do damage to this institution.” History is, indeed, likely to look harshly not only on the decision but the court that delivered it. The Citizens United ruling is likely to be viewed as a shameful bookend to Bush v. Gore. With one 5-to-4 decision, the court’s conservative majority stopped valid votes from being counted to ensure the election of a conservative president. Now a similar conservative majority has distorted the political system to ensure that Republican candidates will be at an enormous advantage in future elections.

Congress and members of the public who care about fair elections and clean government need to mobilize right away, a cause President Obama has said he would join. Congress should repair the presidential public finance system and create another one for Congressional elections to help ordinary Americans contribute to campaigns. It should also enact a law requiring publicly traded corporations to get the approval of their shareholders before spending on political campaigns.

These would be important steps, but they would not be enough. The real solution lies in getting the court’s ruling overturned. The four dissenters made an eloquent case for why the decision was wrong on the law and dangerous. With one more vote, they could rescue democracy.


The Washington Post
The Supreme Court removes important limits on campaign finance
Editorial
January 22, 2010

FOR MORE THAN a century, Congress has recognized the danger of letting corporations use their wealth to wield undue influence in political campaigns. The Supreme Court had upheld these efforts. But Thursday, making a mockery of some justices’ pretensions to judicial restraint, the Supreme Court unnecessarily and wrongly ruled 5 to 4 that the constitutional guarantee of free speech means that corporations can spend unlimited sums to help elect favored candidates or defeat those they oppose. This, as the dissenting justices wrote, “threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the nation.”

This result was unnecessary because the court’s conservative majority — including supposed exemplars of judicial modesty — lunged to make a broad constitutional ruling when narrower grounds were available. It was wrong because nothing in the First Amendment dictates that corporations must be treated identically to people. And it was dangerous because corporate money, never lacking in the American political process, may now overwhelm both the contributions of individuals and the faith they may harbor in their democracy.

The majority found its pretext in the documentary “Hillary: The Movie,” produced by a conservative group called Citizens United and released during the 2008 primaries. Citizens United wanted to make the movie — “a feature-length negative advertisement,” the court termed it — available as a video-on-demand accessible through cable television. That brought into play a provision, part of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, that bars corporate and union political advertising close to the time of an election. That provision applied to Citizens United because the group is organized as a nonprofit corporation and because it takes a small amount of corporate donations. In our view, Citizens United should have been free to distribute the anti-Clinton documentary. The relevant McCain-Feingold provision could have been interpreted to permit such speech by a clearly ideological, as opposed to commercial, for-profit corporation.

Instead, the court’s five-member majority went much further. It overruled a 1990 decision that upheld a state law prohibiting independent corporate expenditures in political campaigns. It overruled its own 2003 decision upholding the same provision of McCain-Feingold that it struck down Thursday — so much for respect for precedent.

“We find no basis for the proposition that, in the context of political speech, the Government may impose restrictions on certain disfavored speakers,” the court said in an opinion by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. Rules against direct corporate contributions to candidates still stand, but corporations are now free to engage in unlimited independent expenditures, something that Congress has banned since 1947.

But the conclusion that corporations have free-speech protections — and they do — does not mandate that they be treated identically to actual persons. Corporations and labor unions, which by implication now also will be free to spend without limit, have not been “censored” or “banned” from engaging in political speech, as the court claimed; rather, they have been required to spend through political action committees, which raise money in limited amounts from employees and members. Reasonable limits on their electoral spending recognized what is obvious to anyone who has not gone to law school: There is a difference between a corporate person and a real person.

President Obama said Thursday that he wants a “forceful response” to the ruling. That will not be easy, given its grounding in the Constitution. The decision invalidates state laws restricting corporate spending, which exist in nearly half the states. On a federal level, Congress could take steps to ameliorate the decision’s impact, such as imposing stronger rules against coordination between campaigns and outside groups or lifting limits on the amount that political parties can spend in conjunction with their candidates. But the damage of Thursday’s ruling, under the false flag of free speech, will not be easily repaired.