High court’s refusal to budge on Citizens United should spark amendment drive

By John Mumby

In throwing out Montana’s century-old ban on corporate political spending without so much as a hearing, the Supreme Court essentially has said that states and the federal government have no right to infringe upon the inalienable right of corporate “persons” to drown ordinary Americans’ voices in a flood of campaign cash.

Huge corporations have a long history of offering support, financial and otherwise, to political candidates in exchange for special treatment. However, until 2010, corporate donations had to be made through political action committees, funded by company employees rather than the corporate treasury and subject to spending limits and disclosure requirements.  However, using the misguided arguments that corporations are “people,” with the same free speech rights as citizens, the Court determined in Citizens United v. FEC that “independent” political expenditures made by corporations or unions are protected speech under the First Amendment. Businesses may now use their corporate treasuries to fund advertisements in support of political candidates, effectively legalizing the purchase and sale of influence in what ought to be a democratic process.

Almost immediately after the decision, American Tradition Partnership, an industry front group, challenged Montana’s longstanding ban on corporate political spending. Montana’s highest court upheld the statute and the state asked the U.S. Supreme Court to follow Montana’s example by reconsidering and reversing Citizens United. Instead, by a 5-4 vote the justices stood firm in support of corporate “rights” and missed an opportunity to take the side of the American people against big money.

The decision surely will energize progressives. Four state legislatures already have called for a Constitutional amendment declaring that corporations are not people, and voters in many states, including Montana, hope to send a similar and unmistakable message at the ballot box in November. Click here to find out if your state is one of them, and to learn more about how you can get involved with Amend 2012.

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