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Mole's Progressive Democrat

The Progressive Democrat Newsletter grew out of the frustration of the 2004 election. Originally intended for New York City progressives, its readership is now national. For anyone who wants to be alerted by email whenever this newsletter is updated (usually weekly), please send your email address and let me know what state you live in (so I can keep track of my readership).

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Location: Brooklyn, New York, United States

I am a research biologist in NYC. Married with two kids living in Brooklyn.

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  • Friday, January 22, 2010

    The Supreme Court Decision

    This week the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, gave corporations the same rights as citizens when it comes to the freedom of expression implicit in campaign donations. In other words, legislation limiting corporate donations to politicians have been overturned.

    In terms of the effect this will have on elections, it is a terrible decision. However, Constitutional decisions are not based on fairness or the consequences of those decisions so much as what rights we are given by the Constitution. For years the ACLU has opposed many of the strongest campaign finance laws because they view them as limiting free speech. This is not the ACLU trying to help the rich and powerful. It is, in their eyes, the correct way to interpret the constitution and the civil libertarian view.

    I have never decided whether I agree with them or not. It is a gray area. Usually, when faced with a gray area, I tend to prefer the civil libertarian view. Better to err in favor of rights than go too far the other way. So, despite being very much in favor of campaign finance reform and wanting as strict rules as possible, I have also been open to the ACLU arguments.

    Similarly, I am not sure how I feel about the Supreme Court decision. I see how horribly it will impact elections, further skewing results towards the wealthy and corporate. And yet, are they right in their decision based on Constitutional grounds?

    Now I might feel better about this decision if corporations were REALLY treated like individuals under the law...which means when a corporation breaks the law they should be held accountable, not let off the hook. When banks are about to go under because of stupid decisions, they won't get bailed out by taxpayer money. But corporations are getting it both ways. They get the rights that citizens get without the responsibilities. But that isn't the issue the Supreme Court was asked to decide on.

    This is a case where fairness in elections and freedom of expression are two excellent ideas which may be at odds.

    As in most cases where there are important issues to be discussed and I have not yet formulated where I stand completely, I prefer to put out there some of the arguments people are making.

    You can read the decision here (PDF).

    You can read what President Obama had to say about the decision here.

    Here is a video from a group opposing the Supreme Court's decision:



    Here is a statement from Representative Alan Grayson (who I greatly respect) outlining his opposition:

    In a 5-to-4 decision today, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that corporations have the "right" to spend an unlimited amount of money to influence and manipulate federal elections. The decision overturns more than a century of law and precedent. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) immediately condemned the decision. "This is the worst Supreme Court decision since the Dred Scott case," Grayson said. "It leads us all down the road to serfdom."

    The court decision completely ignores the likelihood that corporations will spend money to elect officials who will do their bidding, and punish those who won't. It allows unlimited election spending by all corporations, even foreign ones. "The Supreme Court has decided to protect the rights of GE, Volkswagen, Lukoil and Aramco, at the expense of our right to good government," Grayson added.

    Congressman Grayson was in the courtroom when the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision. Grayson circulated a petition yesterday, saying: "Unlimited corporate spending on campaigns means the government is up for sale, and that the law itself will be bought and sold." Within hours, over 10,000 people had signed the petition. Rep. Grayson delivered those petitions to the Court this morning.

    Rep. Grayson also has introduced five bills, the Save Our Democracy package, in anticipation of the Supreme Court's ruling. When he introduced the bills, Grayson said, "if this goes unchallenged, then you can kiss your country goodbye."

    Today, Rep. Grayson called for immediate action on his Save Our Democracy bills. "If we do nothing, then before long, there won't be Senators from Oklahoma or Virginia, there will be Senators from Citibank and WalMart. Maybe they will wear insignias on their $500 suits, like NASCAR drivers do."

    Grayson urges people to contact their Senators and Congressmen, and urge support for the Save Our Democracy bills.


    From the other side, here is what Eliot Spitzer wrote in a Slate.com article:

    When the ACLU and the NRA are on the same side of a Supreme Court case, opposing the majority of so-called "good government" groups, you know something odd is afoot. In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, to be argued on Sept. 9, two core principles that do not easily lend themselves to compromise run into each other head-on. One is the First Amendment, which has the advantage of constitutional enshrinement along with a huge base of absolutist supporters. The second is the well-reasoned effort to rein in the influence of money in politics, which has the support of editorial boards, civic groups, and those who aspire to a democracy where money does not determine whose political views are heard.


    You can read the ACLU's amicus brief on this case here (PDF)

    You can also read an ACLU statement regarding an earlier, similar lawsuit in Vermont.

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