When the Supreme Court ruled in January that restricting corporate campaign contributions is unconstitutional, expressions of outrage reverberated across the country. President Obama used his State of the Union bully pulpit to scold the justices for the outcome of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, and a February poll found that 80 percent of Americans oppose the decision. The outrage is so deep, in fact, that Yes! magazine editor Doug Pibel writes in the Summer 2010 issue that the case may be a “game changer—a decision that is so clearly wrong that it becomes a rallying point” for a broad spectrum of citizens.
The ruling opens the gates for corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on political advertising in the guise of free speech, upending what Pibel, a former attorney, calls “a century-old tradition of controlling the influence of corporations on the electoral process.”
“Citizens United was a case about a corporation spending money to advertise and air a movie that amounted to a hit piece on Hillary Clinton,” Pibel writes. “There are now no limits on the funding of that sort of negative campaign material. Any candidate who doesn’t toe the corporate line can look forward to a flood of opposition cash.”
Free Speech for People and Move to Amend are working for amendments to the constitution that would enshrine free speech as a human, not corporate, right, and both groups have collected tens of thousands of signatures for their petitions. It’s a long and slow process, but they have powerful allies—for instance, Justice John Paul Stevens, a member of the losing minority in the 5–4 decision.
The court’s opinion, he wrote in his dissent, “is a rejection of the common sense of the American people.”