Citizens United One Year Later

Today marks the one year anniversary of the Citizens United decision, the landmark ruling that upended nearly one hundred years of campaign finance law precedent and expanded corporate personhood rights to lengths beyond reason.  In the election season that followed, we witnessed obscene amounts of direct corporate spending on Congressional races and watched as the our democracy became even more beholden to corporate interests.

Congress came close to remedying this reality with the DISCLOSE Act, but as was typical of the 111th Congress, Republicans filibustered the measure which would have forced corporations to disclose who they were sending money to and how much they were sending. That legislation is effectively dead for the time being, leaving open the possibility of even more unchecked spending as we approach the 2012 presidential race.

The decision did not just usher in a new era of corporate electoral spending, it also ushered in a new era of coziness between the Supreme Court and those financiers.

At least one group has decided to push back. On Wednesday, Common Cause filed a petition with the Department of Justice asking it to investigate potential conflicts of interests with Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas due to their publicly close ties with billionaire Charles Koch, a major donor to conservative causes and the role of Justice Thomas’s wife Virginia in forming a conservative political group opposed to the Obama administration. 

The petition argues that Justices Scalia and Thomas should disqualify themselves from hearing campaign finance cases due to these relationships as it at least creates an appearance of bias.  This “appearance” is key as it is the standard by which the judicial cannon requires a judge recuse him or herself from hearing a matter. Despite that standard the Justices have, in recent years, they have been reluctant if not recalcitrant in removing themselves from cases.

Common Cause’s petition seeks to vacate the Citizens United decision and ultimately force a rehearing on the issue.  Among the issues it wants the Justice Department to look at is whether or not the justices appeared before Mr. Koch’s conservative strategy group between 2008 and 2010, when the court was considering the Citizens United case, and whether they were reimbursed for their expenses.  If the answer to those questions is yes, then Common Cause may have found a hook to force a rehearing.

Common Cause has a tough, but not impossible, task at hand.  But this new strategy is a good step and a necessary change in strategy to address the damage done to both our electoral system and our faith in the judiciary as a result of Citizens United

The necessary next step is to push back against the ongoing insistence by the business community that corporate personhood is anything other than a legal fiction.  The Court is currently considering whether or not corporations have privacy interests under the 5th Amendment and can therefore avoid answering subpoenas and other investigative tools in some instances.  
We are witnessing a perversion of the 14th Amendment and it must end.   But for now, Common Cause is on the right path in calling attention to and forcing daylight on the coziness between certain members of the Court and the corporate conservative beneficiaries of their decisions.

photo courtesy of Tracy O via Flickr

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Maggie Neal
Margaret Neal3 years ago

The "strict constructionists" on the US Supreme Court ned a history lessons. Our founders could never have intended that business corporations have the same standing as natural persons because the business corporation was not in use in this country at that time. Business were primarily partnerships. Some were chartered, but that required a special act of the legislature and have the government entity granting the charter rights over it. The business corporation did not gain a foothold in this country until the early to mid 1800s. Get a grip, SCOTUS. Fix this stupidity or we will do it for you!

Bill M.
Bill Moyer4 years ago

For a fun view of our efforts in DC on the Citizens United anniversary, I invite all to visit:

In solidarity for a truly democratic republic - of, by and for the People,

Bill Moyer
Backbone Campaign

Brian F.
Brian F.4 years ago

We should put all the republicans and blue dog democrats in prison for life for taking money from big corporate special interest. America, the corporate controlled dictatorship, tries to actually lecture other countries about human rights when it's own republican senators and congressman are illegally taking millions of dollars from big powerful corporations as a bribe to pass laws that allow corporate polluters to destroy our earth as well as corporate criminal insurance companies to allow people to die because they cannot afford health insurance.

Geoffrey Y.
Geoffrey Y.4 years ago

USA is behind other nations on this issue. This is the core. USA has way much transparent to others, sometime I doube if necessary but this polical campign fund transparent is VERY very important to the public. This is how you can re-shape these two parties.

Ann P.
A P.4 years ago

Of the Corporations, by the Corporations and for the Corporations.

Kent Magner
Kent Magner4 years ago

In the early days of this country, what we now call corporations were given temporary charters not permanent and were also required to act in the public benefit. We need capital punishment for corporations who harm the public repeatedly like BP, complete seizure of all assets and revocation of their charters.

Diana S.
Diana S.4 years ago

Who the hell is/are "Citizens United," and why do every one of their actions, and every one of the causes to which they attach themselves seem to be completely AGAINST the best interests of the citizens of the US?!?!?

Or did ACORN, instead of just disappearing into the mist, change its name to Citizens United?

WTF is going on with our idiot legislators - they seem to be losing millions of brain-cells every day, and they didn't have all that many to begin with.

"Scuse me, but I have to go buy a copy of "Anarchy for Dummies" and an Uzi now....

Marco C.
Marco C.4 years ago

A corporation can't be a person, let's stop being ridiculous.

No law can be written to make it so either. Those that would have it so, have something sneaky up their sleeves. The behavior should be viewed as suspicious, they need to be investigated and prosecuted were neccessary.

It should never have been seriously entertained, something is very wrong.

Yvonne C.
Von D.4 years ago

Corporations should not be allowed to influence our government in any way, even with lobbying groups. They now have all the control and the people have almost none. It was never meant to be that way.

Benita C.
Benita J. C.4 years ago

The Founders never intended to give corporations, whose only legal mandate is to make money (thereby making them sociopaths), to have the privleges of natural persons. They and the amoral bunch that run them have way too much power in our politics, media, food, and culture. The best way to make them accountable is to regulate them, sue them, and revoke their charters.