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Citizens United and the Super Pacs, Essay Example

Pages: 4

Words: 1232

Essay

Consequences of Citizens United

When an era of austerity concludes, conflicts emerge. Ensuing conflicts involve special interest groups fighting to protect what is advantageous for them, and wealthy corporations have a vested stake in the outcome of these conflicts. A Supreme Court decision in 2010 has had a profound impact on how corporations and wealthy individuals are conducting themselves in American politics. The Citizens United ruling is having a revolutionary influence on politics with serious repercussions for the future. It is important that the public understand that there are ways to prevent unwanted outcomes from this decision, and to restore the belief that corporations should not be treated with the same rights and privileges as people.

The End of Austerity

In ‘The Age of Austerity’, Edsall provides telling statistics on the recent state of the economy. In mid-2011, 28.9 million people were underemployed or out of work. There were nine unemployed employment seekers for every two positions, and 11 million homeowners owed more than the properties were worth {Edsall 13}. He also points out the dearth of resources that different constituencies are fighting over. The federal debt held by the public in 2010 represented 62% of GDP, which has only occurred during World War II and the decade afterward previously {Edsall 16}. When austerity is in decline, resources dwindle and infighting among groups for dwindling resources is inevitable. When corporations and the wealthy are able to flex their fiscal strength, many argue that they have an unfair advantage.

This is what Citizens United accomplished in the landmark court case where judges ruled that corporations could spend unlimited sums in elections and opened the door for the formation of the well-funded Super PACs. Furthermore, there are many ways these contributions can be made where the donor’s identity is not revealed. There is ample evidence that corporations and the wealthy are moving aggressively to influence elections. In the most recent election season the independent investment level topped $88 million, which represents a 234% increase from 2008 and a 634% increase from 2004 {Slate}. Also, the top ten Super PAC donors are Republican, and have donated more than $45 million in contributions. One Super PAC donor named Sheldon Adelson has even donated $25 million by himself {Think Progress}.

More evidence comes from the concerns expressed by President Obama. The President has a vested interest in providing reforms and to circumvent the Citizens United case because of his political agenda. He came into office in 2008 with a desire to overhaul healthcare, reform the tax code, address bank corruption and seek global warming legislation. All of these agenda items pit President Obama against special interest groups who have strong interest in such government priorities. It is no wonder why he has often made critical comments about lobbyists, as this ability for corporations to spend limitless money can potentially hinder his agenda and presidency {Salon}. Moreover, Obama has more recently called for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, and has also renewed a previous call to strengthen disclosure rules so donors have to be identified {Politico}.

Corporations = People?

Of particular concern to many is the shift in rights for corporations to be treated akin to people. The justices shifted on key issues, changing how the law views corporate corruption, and making the definition narrower than was used previously. This helped justify their ruling, as using money to buy influence no longer is considered corruption. The ruling argued that since individuals can give unlimited money, corporations can as well. These are two of the most significant ways that the Citizens United ruling equated the rights of corporations to rights of people. The assessment of President Obama’s concerns are prevalent to these issues, as Obama is quoted as saying that Citizens United is wrong based on constitutional law and it is bad for democracy {The Huffington Post, Kendall}.

In a video on YouTube posted by Town Square, it is noted that the founding fathers were not very mindful or trusting of corporations, and they certainly did not view them like they would people. It is interesting to note this while also considering why Citizens United tends to get support from Libertarians and others who tend to advocate a strict adherence to the original intent of the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Scalia, for example, is known as a Constitutionalist, so his support of Citizens United seems out of character. One must question his motives, especially when it is known that he is well connected to strong supporters of Citizens United, such as Charles Koch.

Pro-Business Supreme Court

Other primary supporters include the Chamber of Commerce, who spent $31 million in 2010 on elections and advocates the practice. The Chamber has been successful with obtaining favorable rulings from the Roberts Supreme Court. The Roberts court has ruled with the Chamber 68% of the time, higher than the previous courts of Rehnquist (56%) or Burger (43%). This also points to a close relationship between current justices and pro-business lobbies {The Huffington Post, Sacks}. What is equally troubling is when corporations practice dual donations, where they spend money with both parties, as they want to ensure that whoever wins is indebted. The video describes buying politicians as a great investment, citing an example from 2004 where political campaign spending by corporations produced a 22,000% return on investment when a law passed creating a tax holiday {Town Square}.

Take Back Power

The impact Citizens United has had on our democracy is still being learned, but is both significant and profound. Super PACs with corporate backing could potentially have nearly limitless resources, providing them with unfair advantage since they have a louder voice than other constituencies. To correct this, grassroots level efforts from citizens can be undertaken so their voice is heard by those in Washington, who are presently far more concerned with what the lobbyists tell them. We have already seen examples of such movements: MoveOn in the 90’s, and the more recent Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements {Salon}. Another group of political influencers that will be sympathetic to the concerns that President Obama and others have about Super PACs are state governments, as many are not comfortable with influence peddling that occurs in WashingtonD.C. These states have the abilities to pass laws and force issues that could apply additional pressure.

Correcting for Citizens United may require a decentralized effort, and a culmination of multiple efforts that occur nationwide. Progress can be made, and though it will take time,  damage caused by this ruling can be compensated for as long as enough of the public speaks out.

References

Edsall, Thomas Byrne. ‘The Age of Austerity: How Scarcity Will Remake American Politics’. New York: Doubleday, 2011. Print.

Politico, 29 Aug. 2012, “Obama calls for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United”, Bryon Tau, <http://www.politico.com/politico44/2012/08/obama-calls-for-constitutional-amendment-to-overturn-133724.html>

Salon, 05 Feb. 2012, “The tyranny of tiny minds and big money”, Lawrence Lessig, <http://www.salon.com/2012/02/05/the_tyranny_of_tiny_minds_and_big_money/singleton/>

Slate, 09 Mar. 2012, “The Numbers Don’t Lie”, Richard L. Hasen, <http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2012/03/the_supreme_court_s_citizens_united_decision_has_led_to_an_explosion_of_campaign_spending_.html>

The Huffington Post, 02 Nov. 2012, “Citizens United, President Obama, and His Liberal Naysayers”, Doug Kendall,<http://www.huffingtonpost.com/doug-kendall/citizens-united-president_b_2064049.html>

The Huffington Post, 21 Jun. 2012, “Supreme Court: U.S. Chamber of Commerce Undefeated This Term, Mike Sacks, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/21/supreme-court-us-chamber-of-commerce_n_1617392.html>

Think Progress, 23 Apr. 2012, “Eight of the Top Ten 2012 Super PAC Donors Are Republicans”, Ian Millhiser, <http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2012/04/23/469170/eight-of-the-top-ten-2012-super-pac-donors-are-republicans/?mobile=nc>

Town Square, 19 Jan. 2012, “Slut Shaming, Citizens United, & Wall Street Tax (The Point)”, TYT Network, <http://www.youtube.com/watch annotation_id=annotation_943866&feature=iv&src_vid=vK2qQ1MhgFE&v=qzgY15MqzGc>

Graphics:

http://www.slate.com/content/dam/slate/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2012/03/120309_ElectionCycle_DataSet.gif.CROP.article568-large.gif

http://thinkprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/SuperPAC-chart.png

http://www.hightowerlowdown.org/sites/hightowerlowdown.civicactions.net/files/2011-10_cartoon.jpg

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