Corporations are People Too! Goodbye, Campaign Finance Reform

That thud you heard this morning as you enjoyed your coffee and read the paper?  That was the sound of one hundred years of legal precedent and millions of dollars hitting campaign floors everywhere as the ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission was announced.  The decision unwound significant portions of campaign finance rules, holding that the government may not ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections.  A bitterly divided Court removed existing restraints on what and when for-profit and non-profit corporations can spend on the campaigns, just in time for a slew of primaries, including one twelve days from now in Illinois.

Like many major Supreme Court decisions, and this is a major Supreme Court decision, the ruling raises as many questions as it answers.  The decision strikes portions of campaign finance regulation that bars corporations from using their own in-house money to spend on campaigns.  According to Justice Kennedy, author of the decision for the Court’s 5-4 majority, the identity of the political speaker (the person spending dollars on campaigns) cannot be the basis for restrictions on independent political spending. 

But, the decision does not address one of the central issues plaguing campaign finance regulation and that is, crafting the difference between a political message that involves “express advocacy” and one that involves “issue advocacy”.  The Court has suggested that Congress has more power to curb express advocacy versus issue advocacy.  That was, until this decision.

Justice Steven led the dissenters in a passionate charge against the majority, stating that the Court had made a grave error in equating corporate speech the same as human speech.  According to Justice Stevens, the only thing that had changed in campaigns or campaign finance reform was the makeup of the Court–a distinct jab at his colleagues Justice Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts.

The Court left in place a few regulations, such as the requirement that any corporation that spends more than $10,000 in a year to produce or air advertising or content covered by federal restrictions must file a report with the Federal Elections Commission revealing the names and addresses of anyone who contributed $1000 or more to the ad’s preparation or distribution.  It also left in place the requirement that a if a political ad is not authorized by a candidate or a political committee, the ad must state who is responsible for its content, plus the name and address of the group behind the ad.  Only Justice Clarence Thomas dissented on upholding these requirements.

For those of you who thought there was already far too much money in political campaigns, prepare to be appalled at the level of direct corporate spending that will now take place.  As for those on the right who like to decry “liberal, activist judges” I would simply ask you to point to any precedent, beyond the sweeping attacks on campaign finance law implemented by Justices Scalia and Thomas in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce that suggests undoing, let alone even questions, decades of legal opinions that while corporations may have legal personhood, that is not the equivalent to a grant of human rights to corporations.

And the reason the Court has never equated corporate personhood with actual personhood is because, as articulated by Justice Stevens, corporations “have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, not thoughts, no desires” and most importantly are “not members of ‘We the People’ by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.”

Even former Chief Justice William Rehnquist warned against treating corporate spending as the First Amendment equivalent of individual free speech is to “confuse metaphor with reality”.  But that is just what the Roberts Court did.  And now health care, climate change, and any issue that pits the good of the people over the corporate bottom line is at risk.

photo courtesy of unhindered by talent via Flickr


Monica M.
Past Member 7 years ago

I encourage everyone who reads this post to go here and join. The rotten politics in our country will only change when people like you and me decide we have had enough and take the time to get involved. Our freedoms and country are at stake here. Isn't that enough to WAKE PEOPLE UP!!!!! Celebrities Nude

Vivianne Mosca-Clark

In any other kind of court case,Corporations can not be sued or any thing,because they are NOT human. So what is up? So does that mean we can sue,etc. corporations if they mess us over? They will not last very long,if that is the case. There is a long line waiting to 'get back' at the cooperate wrong doings.

John T.
John T8 years ago

People, you need to remember one important power even the USSC can NOT take away from us. In any trial, WE ARE THE JURY!!
Now, in no way am I suggesting any one EVER find a corporation guilty if the evidence shows they are innocent.
What I AM suggesting is, if the jury finds the corporation guilty, that you consider, under the law, mitigating the dollar fines and suggest an appropriate jail sentence for the officers of the corporation. It may not work the first or even the second time. It WILL put corporations on NOTICE that we're tired of paying their fines and will push the legal system to incarcerate people.

Gary Jeffers
Gary Jeffers8 years ago

There have been numerous science fiction movies depicting corporations openly ruling not only our country but the world. Fraid that day has arrived unless we can somehow get the politicians these corporations have corrupted to go against their masters and do the job they swore to do when they took office. Don't look good does it? I also completely agree with the comment regarding our various policing agencies. They are relatively tame as long as you don't threaten the status of the true elite in our country. If you do, well, sorry about your luck.

Past Member
Past Member 8 years ago

They can't (and won't doggone it) have it both ways! They can't demand to be seen as "people" when they want special treatment and as "business" when they are getting sued or are called on to take responsibility for something! Again...I am sickened by what's happening in America with these greedy losers!

Elaine Dixon
Elaine Dixon8 years ago

interesting to say the least

Lionel Mann
Lionel Mann8 years ago

As long ago as the nineteenth century civilised nations made bribery and financial influence in national or regional elections a criminal offence. The U.S.A. is still living in the Dark Ages.

Scott Z.
Scott Z8 years ago

Corporations are nothing more then places of business owned by people, people who believe that because they have lots of money they should have a louder voice then an individual when it comes to government. Five members of our nation's High Court have now given these individuals greater, and yes, unjust, rights which were never imagined by the framers of the Constitution.
This ruling is every bit as despicable as the 1857 Dred Scott decision made by another imbecilic high court and it must be overturned.

TERRANCE N8 years ago

We have an economic system that allows one person, a hedge fund manager, to make two billion dollars a year, while the middle class is being decimated.

What is a hedge? Refuse to commit oneself; protect oneself against loss by backing more than one possibility. In other words, it’s a bet. They don't make a product. They don't stimulate the economy. This gambling with our money and our economy.

Where do they get the funds to make these bets? Our pensions, mutual fund accounts, union benefits, 401k, and government backed securities.

These managers have kicked back so much money to our politicians in campaign contributions and lobbying fees, that our politicians have basically lost their minds. Any semblance of integrity, principals, pride, and dignity has vanished for most of them. These unds are not regulated

If you are used to giving a prostitute $200.00 for their services, how do you think their reaction will be if you increase it to $10,000.00? Can you imagine their reactions? They become happy, and much more compliant. They will do practically anything you want them to.

These hedge fund types are the people our Supreme Court and government have signed us over to with this ruling. They wouldn’t treat us like our political prostitutes however. The last eight years is an example of how we will be treated, which have included lost of jobs, lost of homes, horrible health care, unregulated and inspected food, and the list goes on and on. This must be s

Lynn T.
.8 years ago

Thanks Terrance for the link to:
I encourage everyone who reads this post to go here and join. The rotten politics in our country will only change when people like you and me decide we have had enough and take the time to get involved. Our freedoms and country are at stake here. Isn't that enough to WAKE PEOPLE UP!!!!!