“Citizens United” is a 2010 US Supreme Court decision holding that significant parts of the 2002 McCain/Feingold campaign reform bill were unconstitutional. The case is probably most famous for determining that a corporation is a ‘person’ as referenced in the First Amendment and therefore possesses the right of free speech.
The decision also doubled down on the premise that money equals free speech – an idea established in the 1976 decision, Buckley v Valero. Looking at all the particulars given in the majority opinion for Citizens United, subsequent court decisions have begun a startling process of unraveling any and every effort of the people to make their campaigns open, fair and free.
We at NJOCU are troubled by this in the extreme. We see that the influence of money on the election process as corruptive. We speak not of quid-pro-quo, but of endemic corruption, that alters not just the way we elect our representatives by how they then govern – or in many cases, how they fail to govern.
New Jersey for the Overturn of Citizens United is an alliance of committed individuals and groups. We are working to get money out of politics to whatever extent is possible. While any member, member group or endorser may hold specific partisan views on specific political issues, the alliance is nonpartisan. We are expanding our alliance across the political spectrum in New Jersey. Please contact us if you or your group is interested in joining in our campaign.
Corporations are not people and money is not free speech.
WHAT are we saying specifically?
Our campaign “New Jersey for the Overturn of Citizens United” stands for two simple ideas.
Money is not free speech
Corporations are not people
We think that elected representatives at various levels of America’s federal, state and local governments should be able to reasonably and carefully regulate the conduct of campaigns to make them as fair and open as possible. We do not believe that the ability to spend or collect large amounts of money should become the only pathway to “free” speech. We further do not agree that corporations are persons (or more specifically, citizens). While various entities composed of many people may be formed in a free society, it is another matter altogether to treat the resulting group as a ‘person’ under the constitution. Uniquely describing some groups as constitutional ‘persons’ while others groups are not, such as the SCOTUS has recently done, is profoundly wrong. The press, we should remember, is expressly mentioned in the first amendment, and its rights are already outlined there. We do not contend that a corporation may not be considered a part of the ‘press.’ We acknowledge that the press might need definition.
All of the above said, we do not seek here to write the language of the US Constitution. We do not even contend that the majority decision in Citizens United and the subsequent cases mentioned on this site have been completely without merit. Instead we contend that the findings were constrained by limited language describing very complex ideas and that the decisions did not point us toward solutions that actually work. Actual outcomes DO matter. We believe that earlier cases regarding campaign laws have also failed to address the problem of money in politics and to protect freedom of speech for all persons. There is only so much that can be determined in court. To settle this matter, there needs to be a national discourse and a drafting of an amendment by the Congress to allow, at minimum, for campaign regulation in the clear best interest of the people as people were intended by the founders in the Bill of Rights. Groups of people, unions and incorporations of shareholders are served by serving the people. Freedom, fairness, and a healthy continuation of democracy are at stake if we do not act.
What’s wrong with Money in Politics?
- Moneyed interests are often unconcerned with good government.
- Moneyed interests tend to make laws more complicated by inserting their specific (self-interested) demands. Complex laws make for Bigger, less efficient government.
- Money interests will often encourage government to ‘pick a winner.’
- Moneyed interests tend to favor privatizing profits and socializing losses.
- Lobbyists, whose expertise is often needed in the legislative process, are now the same people most directly funding the politician’s campaign, thus comprising the objectivity of the exchange.
- Lobbyists gain such continued and familiar access to elected officials that policy focus is shifted away from representation of the actual constituency.
- Policies not related to money, but instead to issues like family values, civil rights, diversity or conservative social ideals, may be overwhelmed by political deal-making that seeks first and foremost to serve moneyed interests.
- Moneyed interests will support incumbent politicians just to gain access to committees or other political allies. This distorts the actual interests of the voters, and makes voter-instigated change much more difficult.
- The job of collecting money is too distracting. Not all of the players in the ‘arms race’ of campaign financing are willing participants. Many are dragged along. Many are rendered ineffective by the demands of constant campaigning and fundraising. This issue goes WAY beyond a simplistic case of ‘quid pro quo.’ This is systemic corruption.
- Money is NOT free speech. Money is just a volume knob on certain speech from certain political special interests.
- Corporate personhood, when combined with America’s treaty law, can actually result in the surrender of the sovereignty of federal, state and local governments to foreign moneyed interests.
- Small businesses, the engine of the real economy, find that they now need to compete not only in the marketplace but in the in political arena. More than two-thirds of all small business owners disagree with Citizens United and even more complain that money in politics is bad for business.
- Money in Politics corrupts the fundamental vision of a democracy by and for the PEOPLE.
While money in politics does not always come from what we might all agree is a “moneyed interest,” it is important to understand that the distorting effects of money can be just as damaging in the hands of those with the best of intentions. The complaint here is not that those with money are wrong. It is the role of money itself that is wrong. Money should not be the final authority in determining what is discussed, what is heard, what is right or wrong or implemented or ignored.
Some slightly deeper background information
“Citizens United” is a 2010 US Supreme Court decision holding that significant parts of the 2002 McCain/Feingold campaign reform bill was unconstitutional. The case is probably most famous for determining that a corporation is a ‘person’ as defined by the First Amendment and therefore possesses the right of free speech. Many people across America were discouraged to see this seemingly false equivalence held up as the law of the land. Others were just as upset to see that once again the elected legislative branch of the country had been voided by the unelected judicial branch. Still others debated the particulars of the case, and the dissenters within the court had many followers outside the court who agreed that the decision would lead to campaign abuses.
Citizen’s United has indeed led to what many believe are abuses. Certainly the case has changed American politics in fundamental ways. As such, the words “Citizens United” are recognizable and are even found in the name of this alliance. But we urge you to learn more. The problems we are addressing run deeper than any one court case.
The Citizens United decision cited a prior case to point out that campaign contributions may be limited by law, but campaign expenditures may not. The simplest way to understand this idea is that a contribution can be seen as an effort to corrupt, while an expenditure is purely an effort to express – that is to freely speak (money = speech). Corporations, the court said, could not be constrained from unlimited free speech. Based on Citizens United, the DC Circuit court found in the SpeechNOW case that a person, corporation or union, may contribute unlimited amounts of money to any entity exclusively engaged in ‘independent expenditures.’ SpeechNOW is a PAC that does not contribute to candidates, but only expresses itself politically, independent of coordination with any candidate. From this decision we have seen the emergence of the SuperPACs, bloated with money and free to spend endlessly.
Then in 2011, the court again decided against the right of an elected legislature to regulate campaigns. The right of free speech was again the concern cited by the court. In this case the ‘free’ speech was for well-funded candidates who might be burdened by an opponent whose ideas were being heard ‘equally’ by the voters. Any campaign law that attempted to assure that both candidates would be heard was unfair to the better funded and therefore a violation of his free speech.
As the Citizens United case continues to evolve into the law of the land, rippling through state and local governments and campaign practices, we see more and more that we cannot expect that regulation of our elections will be constitutional or at least useful in light of the limitations. Certainly, anyone can understand that regulating an election to actually be unfair should not be constitutional, but it is much harder to see how the current trend is in the right direction. The ‘rights’ and ‘freedoms’ which the court has used to justify their concerns are clearly outweighed by the rights and freedoms of other parties which the court has chosen to ignore.
Some excerpts from Justice Stevens’s dissenting opinion:
“Five Justices were unhappy with the limited nature of the case before us, so they changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law.”
“The Framers thus took it as a given that corporations could be comprehensively regulated in the service of the public welfare. Unlike our colleagues, they had little trouble distinguishing corporations from human beings, and when they constitutionalized the right to free speech in the First Amendment, it was the free speech of individual Americans that they had in mind.”
“At the federal level, the express distinction between corporate and individual political spending on elections stretches back to 1907, when Congress passed the Tillman Act.”
“We have held that speech can be regulated differentially on account of the speaker’s identity, when identity is understood in categorical or institutional terms. The Government routinely places special restrictions on the speech rights of students, prisoners, members of the Armed Forces, foreigners, and its own employees.”
“At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.”