Citizens United in review…
As you might recall, in 2008 a conservative lobbyist group called Citizens United wanted to air a film titled Hillary: The Movie. The film criticizes Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who at that time was competing for the Democratic nomination in the presidential election. Courts in the District of Columbia determined that to advertise for the film within 30 days of the 2008 Democratic primaries was in direct violation of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) passed in 2002. The BCRA asserts that any “electioneering communication” (otherwise known as broadcast, cable, or satellite messages) that mentioned a candidate within 60 days of a general election or 30 days of a primary was not to be paid for by corporations. In 2010, the Supreme Court examined the case and struck down these provisions in the BCRA.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court held that to restrict the capacity of corporations and unions to make independent political expenditures and communicate political opinions was contrary to the First Amendment to the Constitution. As a result, corporations are able to lend their unlimited reach of influence to candidates. Corporations and unions are free to spread messages of support or disapproval of candidates as far as their dollar can stretch. In the dissenting opinion, Justice Stevens wrote: “A democracy cannot function effectively when its constituent members believe laws are being bought and sold”. Since the decision, nearly 300 Americans have raised over $11.5 million for political campaigns each year.
Could a change be coming soon?
On Monday September 8th, however, a significant change occured. The U.S. Senate voted 79-18 to advance a constitutional amendment that would overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Senator John Tester is co-sponsoring the constitutional amendment with Senator Tom Udall, which basically calls upon the federal government to impose limitations on the raising and spending of money in federal elections. The amendment would endow state governments with a similar power of restriction on funding and spending for state elections.
Unfortunately, the amendment was later voted down– so for now, the amendment will not be considered further. However, all hope is not lost in the fight to minimize the voices of corporations. Senator Bernie Sanders claims, “The fight to overturn Citizens United must continue at the grass-roots level in every state in this country.” In the four years since the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, nearly 16 states and 600 communities have demanded that Congress take formal action.
We urge you to take a stand, to sign petitions, to participate in demonstrations, and overall convey to our congress that this is what we the people want. This potential shift is important to us at Arizona List. Our organization works to promote the voices of pro-choice, Democratic women who are currently vastly underrepresented in Arizona politics. Needless to say, we wish for our state government to be inclusive of diverse populations and beliefs. It is impossible for all voices to be heard if the wealthiest folks in the state are disproportionally able to support their chosen candidates. Ideally, people of all income levels should feel welcome to advertise for their chosen candidates without being dramatically overshadowed by the endorsements of the wealthiest political supporters.
-Mallory Corrus, Arizona List Intern