January 21st was the 2-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United.
The anniversary was marked with a number of protests, and an even larger number of news articles and blog posts documenting the dramatic growth of political “Super Pacs” and other unaccountable third-party political actors in the wake of that decision. We have seen an almost unimaginable amount of money being spent to influence–okay, buy–elections.
As a guest blogger for the American Constitution Society recently wrote, “people are expressing outrage about the corrosive effect of big money in politics, particularly in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. FEC.
This outrage is well founded – in a report Public Citizen published one year after the Court’s disastrous decision – we found that spending by outside groups jumped to nearly $300 million in the 2010 election cycle, from just $68.9 million in 2006. The donors for nearly half of this independent money spent remain undisclosed. And, that’s just a taste of what’s to come. The influx of independent expenditures in allowed by Citizens United will bump up election campaign spending to record levels in 2012; by some accounts to as much as $8 billion, dwarfing previous records.
We want to get big money out of politics, but do that, you have to engage the very system that is weakened and undermined by that money. The deck seems stacked. How does an ordinary person find a way to make that change happen?”
The entire post is worth reading, and the author concludes–as have many others–that we need a constitutional amendment that would overturn the decision and confirm that corporations are not people.
I agree that such an amendment is warranted, if incredibly difficult to pass. But as a retired Judge told me several months ago when we were discussing the case, the real travesty was the earlier decision in Buckley v. Valeo, in which the Court equated money with speech. That was the decision that made Citizens United possible.
We all know that wealthier people have more clout in every society; they always have and probably always will. Wealth buys privileges–it allows people to get better educations, join organizations that are influential, have more leisure, hire lobbyists, and access a wide variety of other social “megaphones” that allow them to influence others. That’s just reality–an inescapable consequence of free speech in a market economy, and in my view, an acceptable if regrettable trade-off.
But Buckley and Citizens United vastly increase the power of the rich at the expense of everyone else. Rather than helping to level the playing field by upholding laws that would have moderated political advantage, those decisions dramatically increased the disparity.
If money is speech, and corporations are people, the 1% will always own the political process.