Today We The People had a victory. Oh, to be sure, it was a small victory and only a baby step at that, but a victory, nonetheless. I hope that more steps in this direction will soon follow.
The issue? Citizens United. First, a brief explanation of Citizens United, for those who may not be quite clear on what it is.
Citizens United is a conservative political advocacy organization, founded in 1988, whose stated mission is to “reassert the traditional American values of limited government, freedom of enterprise, strong families, and national sovereignty and security.” Sounds harmless enough, right?
What they actually do, using donations from wealthy republican supporters, is create and produce advertisements and documentary films critical of republican opponents, primarily democratic candidates, but also certain media outlets, such as Mother Jones, and in 2016, they produced a film critical of the United Nations.
In 2016, Citizens United president David Bossie, a long-time friend of Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway, took leave to become Trump’s deputy campaign manager. As such, he made personal and television appearances and produced ads mainly unfavourable to Hillary Clinton.
But the real impact of Citizens United came from their lawsuit in 2009-2010, Citizens United v Federal Election Commission (FEC). To make a very long story short, in that case the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that that the free speech clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution prohibits the government from restricting independent expenditures for communications by nonprofit corporations, for-profit corporations, labor unions, and other associations. In other words, there are no limits to what any business, individual, union, PAC or other organization can contribute to a political campaign. It is the ruling that opened the door for such organizations as the NRA to put hundreds of thousands of dollars into the pockets of members of Congress. So, if you’ve got the money, you can basically buy a candidate.
Now, fast forward to today. The State of New York has a requirement that nonprofits must disclose their donors each year. Citizens United challenged that law, claiming it violated the First Amendment, and that to disclose the names of donors would inhibit some, who wished to remain anonymous, from donating. Today, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan rejected those claims. Circuit Judge Rosemary Pooler said New York has important interests in stopping fraud and abuse by charities, and requiring them to disclose names, addresses and contributions of their largest donors makes enforcement easier.
Okay, granted it may not seem like much of a win, but I think it is the first step on a path to greater transparency in political campaign funding. The ultimate goal, of course, should be to severely limit campaign funding, for when a company, say a coal company, can spend unlimited amounts of money to fund the republican candidate’s political campaign, then that company no doubt expects something in return. We are seeing that today, with the fossil fuel industry having contributed heavily to, not only Donald Trump, but also certain pliable members of Congress, and now those who received the benefit are providing the payback.
Michael Boos, one of the attorneys for Citizens United, has indicated that they will be considering an appeal to today’s ruling.
On March 27, 2002, President George W. Bush signed into law a bill, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, aka BCRA, aka McCain–Feingold Act, that regulated the financing of political campaigns.
I generally give the U.S. Supreme Court a thumbs-up for their diligence, their sense of fairness and non-partisan decision-making. However, the case of Citizens United v Federal Election Committee is the exception, for I believe they made a grievous error in allowing unlimited donations to political campaigns. I hope that today’s decision by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court is upheld, and that it is merely the first step toward implementing common-sense rules over campaign financing. Every November, we each put on our patriotic hats and go to the polls to vote according to our beliefs and our consciences. But, in recent years, our elections have been tampered in many ways, and by many nefarious players, not the least of which are those whose corporate greed far outweighs any consideration for We The Pople. It is time for that to change.