Jan. 21, 2010.
Updated 1:25 p.m., Jan.24, 2010
Reactions to the Supreme Court reversing limits on corporate spending in political campaigns
The Supreme Court has ruled that corporations may spend freely to support or oppose candidates for president and Congress, easing decades-old limits on their participation in federal campaigns. Read the Citizens United opinion (pdf). Reaction is coming in fast:
With its ruling today, the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics. It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans. This ruling gives the special interests and their lobbyists even more power in Washington--while undermining the influence of average Americans who make small contributions to support their preferred candidates. That's why I am instructing my Administration to get to work immediately with Congress on this issue. We are going to talk with bipartisan Congressional leaders to develop a forceful response to this decision. The public interest requires nothing less.
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.):It is important to note that the decision does not affect McCain-Feingold's soft money ban, which will continue to prevent corporate contributions to the political parties from corrupting the political process. But this decision was a terrible mistake. Presented with a relatively narrow legal issue, the Supreme Court chose to roll back laws that have limited the role of corporate money in federal elections since Teddy Roosevelt was president. Ignoring important principles of judicial restraint and respect for precedent, the Court has given corporate money a breathtaking new role in federal campaigns. Just six years ago, the Court said that the prohibition on corporations and unions dipping into their treasuries to influence campaigns was 'firmly embedded in our law.' Yet this Court has just upended that prohibition, and a century's worth of campaign finance law designed to stem corruption in government. The American people will pay dearly for this decision when, more than ever, their voices are drowned out by corporate spending in our federal elections. In the coming weeks, I will work with my colleagues to pass legislation restoring as many of the critical restraints on corporate control of our elections as possible.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.):I am disappointed by the decision of the Supreme Court and the lifting of the limits on corporate and union contributions. However, it appears that key aspects of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA), including the ban on soft money contributions, remain intact.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.):For too long, some in this country have been deprived of full participation in the political process. With today's monumental decision, the Supreme Court took an important step in the direction of restoring the First Amendment rights of these groups by ruling that the Constitution protects their right to express themselves about political candidates and issues up until Election Day. By previously denying this right, the government was picking winners and losers. Our democracy depends upon free speech, not just for some but for all.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee:The Supreme Court's divided opinion is likely to change the course of our democracy and could threaten the public's confidence the Court's impartiality. As Justice Stevens noted in his dissent, the 'Court's ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the nation. The path it has taken to reach its outcome will, I fear, do damage to this institution.'Without any basis in the plain text or history of the Constitution, five Justices overturned precedent to grant corporations the same power as any individual citizen to influence elections. For these five Justices to reach their broad ruling, they overturned precedent, as well as the statute. As the dissenting Justices noted, 'the final principle of judicial process that the majority violates is the most transparent: stare decisis.... But if this principle is to do any meaningful work in supporting the rule of law, it must at least demand a significant justification, beyond the preferences of five justices, for overturning settled doctrine.'There is clear reason for ordinary citizens to be concerned that this divisive ruling will, in reality, allow powerful corporations to drown out the voices of everyday Americans in future campaigns. This ruling is no doubt yet another victory for Wall Street, at the expense of Main Street America. Our founding document begins, 'We the People,' and throughout its articles and amendments, the Constitution enshrines the power of our government in the people, not in corporations and powerful special interests.
National Republican Senatorial Committee chair Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas):I am pleased that the Supreme Court has acted to protect the Constitution's First Amendment rights of free speech and association. These are the bedrock principles that underpin our system of governance and strengthen our democracy.This is an encouraging step, and it is my hope that political parties will one day soon be able to speak as freely as other citizen organizations are now permitted.
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.):Today's Supreme Court decision effectively rolls back decades of progress we have made towards ensuring the fairness of our elections. Giving corporate interests an outsized role in our process will only mean citizens get heard less. We must look at legislative ways to make sure the ledger is not tipped so far for corporate interests that citizens voices are drowned out.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the chamber's third-ranking Democrat and a member of the Judiciary Committee:"The bottom line is, the Supreme Court has just predetermined the winners of next November's election. It won't be the Republican or the Democrats and it won't be the American people; it will be Corporate America."
Robin Conrad, executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's litigation center. The Chamber is the nation's largest business group and spent $136 million on political lobbying in 2009, not including its efforts against health-care reform."Today's ruling protects the First Amendment rights of organizations across the political spectrum, and is a positive for the political process and free enterprise."
Common Cause statement:The Supreme Court of the United States handed down a decision today that will enhance the ability of the deepest-pocketed special interests to influence elections and the U.S. Congress, said a pair of leading national campaign finance reform organizations, Common Cause and Public Campaign. The decision in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission, which overturned the ban on independent expenditures by corporations, paves the way for unlimited corporate and union spending in elections.This decision means more business as usual in Washington, stomping on voters' hope for change," said Nick Nyhart, president and CEO of Public Campaign. "Congress must take on the insider Washington money culture if it wants to make the changes voters are demanding. The way to do that is by passing the Fair Elections Now Act.The Roberts court today made a bad situation worse," said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. "This decision allows Wall Street to tap its vast corporate profits to drown out the voice of the public in our democracy.The path from here is clear: Congress must free itself from Wall Street's grip so Main Street can finally get a fair shake," Edgar continued. "We need to change the way America pays for elections. Passing the Fair Elections Now Act would give us the best Congress money can't buy.The Fair Elections Now Act (S.752 and H.R. 1826) was introduced by Senate Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (D-Conn.). In the House, the bipartisan bill has attracted 125 additional cosponsors. Both bills blend small donor fundraising with public funding to reduce the pressure of fundraising from big contributors.
Anna Burger, SEIU Secretary-Treasurer:Today the US Supreme Court lifted the floodgates and started dismantling century-old restrictions on corporate electoral activity in the name of the 'free speech rights' of corporations--meaning if you are a 'corporate person' (aka a CEO or corporate official), you are now free to hit the corporate ATM and spend whatever of your shareholders' money it takes to elect the candidates of your choice.Unlimited corporate spending in federal elections threatens to drown out the voices of the people who should really be at the center of the political process, i.e., voters and candidates. Unleashing corporate spending will only serve to distort and ultimately delegitimize the electoral process.Let's be clear: corporations have already been shilling out a lot of cash for political activities, letting their shareholders and managerial employees know exactly which candidates they want to win or lose elections and paying heavy sums for attack ads, direct mail and other forms of public communication through PACs.But with today's Citizens United decision, the Court has given corporate managers the greenlight to bypass the checks and balances, use unlimited amounts from the general treasury -funds that should be used to increase the value of the business or pay dividends to shareholders--to instead pay for public communications expressly advocating the election or defeat of the candidates of their choice.Our democratic process was meant to protect the people not profit margins and today's decision makes the need for an effective system for public funding, effective disclosure regulations, and other reforms of federal elections all the more pressingWe look forward to working with concerned individuals, officials and groups to remedy to the greatest degree possible the unfortunate consequences of this Supreme Court decision, through legislation and other appropriate means.
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