The Sonoma County Gazette: Community News Magazine
Sonoma County Gazette
| more

Photo Gallery

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission


Are Corporations People?
OpEd: A Chance to Save Our Democracy

By Bill Wadsworth

Are corporations people? Is money speech? The Supreme Court in deciding the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case in 2010 answered yes to these questions. The ruling maintained since corporations are people and money is speech political spending is protected under the First Amendment. 

This ruling has released a downpour of “dark money” flowing into super PACS to influence elections. The legal protections provided corporations means most of these contributions never have to be made public.

The court decided that corporations and all other legal fictions, such as PACs, unions, etc., are “natural” persons with constitutional rights. However legal fictions are immortal artificial entities that the court has given the same inalienable rights (but none of the same responsibilities) as living, heart beating citizens. 

After the Citizens United ruling, President Obama said, “… last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests—including foreign corporations—to spend without limit in our elections.”

Obama was prophetic. The Brennan Center for Justice reports that Super PACs spent $486 million in 2014 Senate elections, more than twice what they spent in 2010. Only 195 individuals and their spouses gave almost 60 percent of the one billion dollars spent by super PACs on all federal elections since Citizens United was decided in 2010. 

In 2014 the California legislature passed SB 1272 to place Proposition 49 on the ballot, which would give voters an opportunity to send a strong collective message to Congress to overturn Citizen United. But the State Supreme Court blocked Proposition 49 from being on the ballot. However, if we act now (see below), we can have this chance to vote because the full court is reviewing the case on 10/6/15. 

In passing SB 1272 our legislature had responded to more than 55,000 petition signatures, 40,000 e-mails, and 176,000 faxes from citizens. The ballot measure would direct California’s congressional delegation to support a constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. Sixteen states have already passed resolutions demonstrating the ability to ratify either a state or Congressional initiated amendment.

SB 1272’s text states, “The United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights are intended to protect the rights of individual human beings. Corporations are not mentioned in the United States Constitution and the people have never granted constitutional rights to corporations, nor have we decreed that corporations have authority that exceeds the authority of ‘We the People.’”

President Obama recently said, “The Citizens United decision was wrong, and it has caused real harm to our democracy. With each new campaign season, this dark money floods our airwaves with more and more political ads that pull our politics into the gutter. It’s time to reverse this trend” 

If you want an opportunity to significantly press our Congress to overturn Citizen United, you can let the California Supreme Court know you want that opportunity. Go to where you can sign the petition to the California Supreme Court demanding that they “Let the People Vote.”

You must sign the petition before 10/5/15.

When corporations become people and money becomes speech it’s time to get involved.