A lot of people have been asking me why we are so despondent about the Citizen’s United decision by SCOTUS. After all, they say, Liberal contributors such as Unions can now contribute as much as Republicans. Let me try to explain why Citizen’s United is such a threat to American Democracy.
The Citizen’s United decision is dangerous from a legal perspective insofar as it reverses over 100 years of legal precedents by other Courts. It elevated the rights of corporations from being an assembly of citizens to being a citizen itself. This is one of the most extreme cases of judicial activism ever seen – you would be hard pressed to find ANY decision by a Supreme Court reversing such a long history of legal precedent. It is disturbing to see a Court so willing to ignore the law to create an essentially political outcome.
Secondly, the elevation of the status of corporations is dangerous because it allows for foreign interference in domestic elections. Many Corporations are owned in part by foreign investors, including foreign governments. The CEO and Boards of many corporations are appointed with the approval of these foreign investors. These same people then make the decisions on how to “invest” in which candidate they feel will serve their will.
Citizen’s United is also dangerous because unlimited funds to underwrite speech necessarily will limit the speech of others. There is only so much commercial time, billboards, etc. and he who can pay the most can dominate the opportunity for speech. Union memberships has been steadily decreasing, and the second column of the right wing assault on democracy is the attempt to break public sector unions, the only unions with steady membership. Once they are gone there will be no one left to represent the interests of the middle class.
Finally, Citizen’s United will have the most devastating effect on a local level. Corporations can contribute thousands of dollars to elect their choices to every office from The Board of Education, to City Council to State Legislatures affecting a whole spectrum of issues form zoning to environmental regulation to taxes. That money will overwhelm ordinary citizens and determine the outcome.