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Jarvis writes: "The Supreme Court may have declared in Citizens United v. the FEC that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections, but that doesn't mean cities and states have to be happy about it."

Old Glory after the SCOTUS Citizens United v. FEC decision made corporations super-citizens, and legalized their purchase of political influence. (photo: WatchingFrogsBoil/flickr)
Old Glory after the SCOTUS Citizens United v. FEC decision made corporations super-citizens, and legalized their purchase of political influence. (photo: WatchingFrogsBoil/flickr)

Sticking It to Citizens United

By Brooke Jarvis, YES! Magazine

10 January 12


From courthouses to statehouses, the pro-corporate ruling is under pressure.

he Supreme Court may have declared in Citizens United v. the FEC that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections, but that doesn't mean cities and states have to be happy about it.

They're expressing their disagreement on an increasing number of battlegrounds, with Citizens United under challenge in courts, in city council meetings, in state legislatures, on ballots, and in the streets.

Dissension in the Courts

Some of the most interesting recent action has been in the courts, with lower courts - including a state Supreme Court and a federal appeals court - taking on Citizens United.

In Montana, the state Supreme Court upheld a longstanding law limiting corporate spending in politics. A lower court had held that Citizens United invalidated the Corrupt Practices Act, a law passed by citizens' ballot initiative in 1912, when it was common practice for the copper industry to bribe state politicians. Unwilling to lose a basic, century-old protection against corruption, the state appealed the issue to the Montana Supreme Court, which on Dec. 30 allowed the law to stand.

For over 100 years, Montana has had an electoral system that preserves the integrity of the political process, encourages full participation, and safeguards against corruption," said Attorney General Steve Bullock, who argued the state's case. "The Supreme Court's decision upholds that system and is truly a victory for all Montanans."

The decision holds that Montana - for a host of reasons, from its history of corrupt industries to its thinly spread population - has a compelling interest in keeping the law. "If the statute has worked to preserve a degree of political and social autonomy, is the State required to throw away its protections?" asked Chief Justice Mike McGrath, writing for the majority.

Even Justice James C. Nelson, who dissented, did so regretfully. "While, as a member of this Court, I am bound to follow Citizens United, I do not have to agree with the Supreme Court's decision," he wrote. "And, to be absolutely clear, I do not agree with it."

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals took a similar stand when, in late December, it upheld a 2006 New York City law that, among other things, bans lobbyists from giving gifts to City officials and requires them to disclose all fundraising and consulting activities. A group of plaintiffs challenging the law hoped it would be invalidated under Citizens United; the court dismissed their lawsuit, upholding the City's right to put limits on political contributions and prevent "pay-to-play" schemes.

Judge Guido Calabresi, in a concurring opinion, explained his reasoning for maintaining limits on corporate lobbying: "If an external factor, such as wealth, allows some individuals to communicate their political views too powerfully, then persons who lack wealth may, for all intents and purposes, be excluded from the democratic dialogue."

From Cities and States to the U.S. Constitution

Though lower courts can take stands against it, the Supreme Court's ruling - that money is constitutionally protected free speech and that corporations are legal persons entitled to such protections - is final. If the Montana and New York City cases are appealed to the Supreme Court, the lower court rulings are likely to be reversed; Montana and New York City would quickly see the end of their hard-won protections.

That's why the New York City Council on Wednesday joined a group of other cities (including Los Angeles, Boulder, Albany, Oakland, and Madison) in asking Congress to pass a Constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. The resolution declares support for an amendment saying "that corporations are not entitled to the entirety of protections or ‘rights' of natural persons, specifically so that the expenditure of corporate money to influence the electoral process is no longer a form of constitutionally protected speech."

The same day, California lawmakers introduced a similar resolution in the state legislature.

Meanwhile, activists are gearing up for the upcoming 2-year anniversary of the ruling, planning rallies on the steps of the Supreme Court and federal courthouses across the country.

It won't be easy to stop big money from undermining our democracy. But momentum is building. The desire for a functioning democracy, writes Judge Calabresi in his concurring opinion for the 2nd Circuit, "is, I believe, something that is so fundamental that sooner or later it is going to be recognized. Whether this will happen through a constitutional amendment or through changes in Supreme Court doctrine, I do not know. But it will happen." your social media marketing partner


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We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

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Founder, Reader Supported News

+69 # Barbara K 2012-01-10 14:46
I hope all the states sign on to this. I know that the ones like my state of Michigan, and Wisconsin, and Ohio, etc. Won't go along with it, but if we can get the Dem ones going now, and then when the other ones return to Dem ones, it can be done there. Get these Tbaggers out of our government. The know nothing, and do nothing, but collect a paycheck and say NO. A paycheck that we, the taxpayers pay, by the way.


our future is at stake
-39 # Martintfre 2012-01-10 16:15

our future is at stake//

your party masters appreciate your unearned reverence. Republicans who say 'Never Vote Democrat' I also call useful idiots
+28 # dbashaggy 2012-01-10 18:46
First of all, the correct term is "Democratic"... you don't see people saying "Republic". Second, most Republicans now are a far cry, and far right, of their former party members, and yes that's been a bad thing.
+19 # Carbonman1950 2012-01-10 20:03
Quoting dbashaggy:
the correct term is "Democratic"

I commend you for continuing to point out the ongoing lie of calling the Democratic Party, the "Democrat Party".

I realize that it is a trivial lie, but it is an indication the moral and ethical standards of present day "conservatives" are so low as to be non-existent. The amount of political advantage to be gained by lying about the name of one's opposition party must be very, very small. The cost to one's soul for telling lies is, I believe, quite large. None-the-less they continue to tell this lie.
+10 # Alice 2012-01-11 10:40
Like their "free market" lie, and the "tax cuts do not cost anything" lie. As soon as I hear someone call the Democratic party the Democrat party, I know they are a member of the Fox Schmooze party.
+6 # jimyoung 2012-01-11 10:47
So very true. Look up the Washburn Brothers who helped start the Republican party, helped get Lincoln past an assassination plot in Baltimore (who do you think cut the telegraph lines) and in the case of Elihu Washburn, Joshua Chamberlain, and Confederate General John Gordon, wanted to rebuild the country "with malice toward none, and charity for all." (Booth's assassination of Lincoln devestated the political good will that could have made such a huge difference after the war.) I'm proud to have been a member of Republican families since the founding, but left about the same time Elizabeth Warren did.
-9 # Martintfre 2012-01-11 11:52
Useful idiots evading the fact that blind loyalty to ANY Party is abysmally stupid.

As a republican who supports Ron Paul I know for a fact that not only does the party hierarchy have total disdain fo0r Freedom - but they are a different breed who think that the government has a right to control peoples personal life - just like the democrats who think that the government has a right to control your economic life -- BOTH ARE WRONG.

usually we get saddled with some great compromiser and we lose both personal and economic freedom.
-4 # disgusted American 2012-01-11 23:16
There you go again, Barbara, with your all caps never vote republican. It's nauseating and shows that you don't get that Democrats are just as bad.

Why would you support Democrats when they voted in favor of extending the Bush tax cuts, voted in favor of the detention of Americans law, voted in favor of Obamacare which is despotism diguised as health care reform, and much more.

Our future is at stake when people like you don't pay attention and blindly support a party that is also quashing our lives.

Either vote for a third party candidate or stay home. Otherwise, you are an enabler b/c the Democrats are the party of the 1% as well as the Repukes.
+2 # John Locke 2012-01-13 11:59
Barbara K: The greatest threat to liberty is our Supreme Court, and attorneys in general who are taught law but fail to understand it...
+32 # bugbuster 2012-01-10 14:49
If the US Constitution cannot protect what is right, then it has outlived its usefulness.
+90 # greenbacker 2012-01-10 16:00
It is not the US Constitution that has outlived it's usefulness, rather it is the activist conservative Justices on the court that no longer serve in the best interest of "we the people" that have proven themselves useless when it comes to preserving the rights of the citizens of this country.
+30 # bugbuster 2012-01-10 17:34
You're right. I should have taken more time on that post.

The Constitution has to be amended to protect the country from these wrongs.

The Constitution is only as good and useful as the people responsible for upholding it. We *know* that a lot of them, and particularly their ideology, have outlived their usefulness.
+54 # Martintfre 2012-01-10 15:11
Citizens who are born live and eventually die have inherent rights to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness - Legitimate function of government explicitly includes protecting those rights.

A corporation is a legal fiction - it has no inherent rights Nore do Unions, Churches, Political parties and a host of other voluntary associations have any inherent rights.

They have political privileges that can be granted and revoked at political whimsy.
+13 # Alice 2012-01-11 10:42
I still agree with the "joke" that Corporations will be people when Texas can execute them.
+71 # DPM 2012-01-10 15:20
Keep the pressure on elected officials. Make your displeasure known to all
+23 # soularddave 2012-01-10 18:41
Quoting DPM:
Keep the pressure on elected officials.

This is serious, now, as the S.C.U.S. has made it possible for agents of corporations in foreign countries to affect elections here, and do so without supervision. This is really bad!

This is corruption of the highest degree, in that the choices of U.S. citizens can now be steered by remote control.
+43 # Martintfre 2012-01-10 15:20
Being a member of a corporation should grant no 'extra' rights or privileges to its members nore should it grant quasi rights to non citizens (say sworn enemies of USA) who could form a corporation in the USA to manipulate our political process to their ends with unlimited contributions.

Additional insult is (not that it affects me dammit) that actual citizens are falsly constrained to a $2,500 limit while the corporations are not.
+12 # Kiwikid 2012-01-10 22:23
Is that true? Could, a say Chinese corporation, participate in your political process to the extent that it could determine who your leaders will be through extensive targetted television advertising? Wow! Now I understand what it means when its said that America has the best Government money can buy. Really scary. And not good for the rest of us who live in the 'free' world.
+51 # lin96 2012-01-10 15:59
Officials take an oath to uphold the Constitution, if they can't they need to go....not the Constitution. The officials are the ones that need to go when it's obvious that they are ignoring the Constitution and not upholding the oath they spoke when they took office. We need to hold their feet to the fire.
+21 # Martintfre 2012-01-10 16:14
People who do not understand it are most willing to throw it away.

Quoting lin96:
Officials take an oath to uphold the Constitution, if they can't they need to go....not the Constitution. The officials are the ones that need to go when it's obvious that they are ignoring the Constitution and not upholding the oath they spoke when they took office. We need to hold their feet to the fire.
+25 # archangelrichard 2012-01-10 16:24
I don't know why people so not understand this

Forget about limiting contributions that way.

Corporations may not spend money on political activity of any kind as that is a violation of the "fiscal" or "fiduciary responsibilitie s" of the officers - the officers are committing a crime against the corporation by throwing money away in a way that does not increase profits

the trick is you need to be a stockholder to sue

again forget trying to achieve your goal this way, become a stockholder and sue the officers of the corporation
+7 # RLF 2012-01-11 07:52
Ah! But it does earn profits. How much do you think GE earns for it's stockholders by not paying taxes...I guarantee it is substantial!
+6 # Alice 2012-01-11 10:45
I am a holder of a great many stock in GE, which took a terrible dive in 2008, but I would rather have a functional government that respects the constitution than all the money in the world. I vote. I write letters. I speak out. That is all one can do.
+3 # KittatinyHawk 2012-01-11 18:17
I am sorry to hear that. GE f___ed everyone in this area in jobs in 70/80's and poison people yearly I would not feel bad to see them go under. I however, do know that we who had/have invested in stocks cannot afford this. I hope you can get enough back to reinvest in a winner as we will have good companies and green ones to invest in.
I do my share to fight back for 40 plus years, sometimes our horns get worn but at least we have them.
+1 # archangelrichard 2012-01-12 22:21
Again, SUE.

Talk is cheap, even threatening to sue (publicly) can have an affect, but if you live near a large city you should be able to find a public interest lawyer who will take this on; you sue the officers for violating their fiduciary responsibilitie s
0 # archangelrichard 2012-01-12 22:19
NO, you can sue the officers, executives for wasting corporate dollars on non-profit making expenses and / or bribing elected officials

If you hold GE stock you have that right
0 # archangelrichard 2012-01-12 22:18
It's not about not paying taxes; it's about malfeasance, if you were a stockholder you could sue the executives for essentially wasting money OR making bribes if they achieved any thing like lower taxes from the spending
+38 # William Bjornson 2012-01-10 16:54
In an America that is already so corrupt that it requires a Constitutional amendment to prevent just one form of overt and treasonous corruption, in a nation with such a mindset that this issue could even become an issue, will such an amendment make any difference at all? I believe not. Such an amendment will have no effect on our psychopathic finance system nor fix anything that was broken before 'citizens united' (I hate this deceptive name). We have a parasitic layer of highly networked and coordinated psychopaths working entirely against the best interests of the People of the United States. It is not at all hyperbole to say that they are our mortal enemies. We call them our 'elite'. All societies have elites. Ours is diseased. Historically, when a society's elite becomes diseased, as all do eventually, the society is destroyed. There is only one cure for a diseased elite given to us by history that will not destroy America. We must destroy our current elite, a radical elitectomy. They will not change nor give back anything that they have stolen. They do not know how and they will kill anyone who attempts to correct their behavior. Only a united citizenry, a REAL Citizens United, will we as a free nation survive into the future. Fascism has already wrapped us in the tentacles of the treasonous 'patriot act' and 'homeland securization'. We have little time left for more blather or trying to use a system we are already locked out of. It's time for direct action.
+14 # jon 2012-01-10 18:40
Beautifully stated!

But what are we to do?

Unless we get a rock-solid Democratic majority in Congress and the White House to undo the treason that has been accelerated since Reagan destroyed the fairness in broadcasting act - thus enabling the nazi propaganda machine: FOX, Limbaugh, etc. - any other approach will result in Patriots being squashed like bugs by mindless cowards under the nazi's employ.
0 # RLF 2012-01-11 07:53
You really think Democratic will make the difference. Obamas appointment was mediocre at best.
+1 # gdp1 2012-01-11 09:17
...the sad truth is that these words can get you renditioned.
+40 # uglysexy 2012-01-10 16:57
the scalia court, whether robed or disrobed, is a disgrace to the bench
+6 # mwd870 2012-01-11 07:31
They are a disgrace. It is encouraging we have seen real pushback when right-wing conservatives clearly go over the line. This ruling must be overturned.
+3 # Alice 2012-01-11 10:48
But watch out for those voter ID laws, intended to negate the wishes of the population.
+32 # ericlipps 2012-01-10 17:20
If it's necessary to amend the Constitution to address Citizens United, how about this wording?

"The term 'person' shall be understood for purposes of the provisions of this Constitution to refer to individual human beings, and not to collective entities whether social, political or economic.

"The term 'individual' shall be understood, for purposes of the provisions of this Constitution, to refer to an entity not physically part of another entity."

This wording would not only squelch Citizens United but would thwart the ongoing effort to define a fertilized egg as a citizen.
+3 # Alice 2012-01-11 10:49
I think you would have to say a living, breathing human being to get past the personhood amendment, which makes a zygote more valuable than the mother.
+12 # bugbuster 2012-01-10 17:29
The more fundamental problem is that campaign spending, not a candidate's beliefs and intentions, determine election outcomes. Most campaign spending, it is said, goes for TV ads. Apparently TV ads work.

**That's** the root cause of the problems related to Citizens United. There are too many stupid people out there being swayed by political ads on TV. Even in this day and age of DVRs and mute buttons, they apparently still sit like zombies and let someone else control all their inputs.

Given that, it's hard to see any salvation for the United States of America. If the scoundrels don't get their way through TV ads, they will find another way to exploit this uniquely American brand of stupidity.
+21 # grouchy 2012-01-10 18:21
If corporations are persons, then why don't each of us go out and marry one--and then we would each be entitled to share their income--perhaps on a 50/50 basis--which would give us enough money to put them out of business!

Also, if they have "personhood", they should be subject to any number of other laws to let us tangle them up in court suits and arrests. Let's go for it!
+5 # KittatinyHawk 2012-01-10 20:14
Not to many I would want to be associated with as their is none that give a ____ of human or animal life no less clean air, water etc.

It is time to use the Birth Certificate on the ones who use it ... let get these tables turning over.

Let's see where the Churches in all their Faith hood really stand with Corporate Poisoners or God! Time we start putting them against the Wall, I mean all Faiths, no one is excused Religion want to Rule than let's see their Morals, because I see none in a one of them. Start asking your Religious leaders who they stand for
Money or God cause they cannot have both...Jesus made a choice Mankind, Faith. He mocked the abuse of Politicians and Temples as they were once in the same....No different today!
+7 # KittatinyHawk 2012-01-10 20:06
I believe that Good Attorneys need to really question the supreme Court. Corporation although run by those who technically may have some type of blood coursing thru their veins, the 'Corporation itself is not Flesh and Blood/ but a network of bylaws put on a piece of paper. As far as I can recall under Religious, Science that doesnot Constitute a Human Being. I realize that the Supreme Court Personas who voted for these creeps probably are not themselves 'Human Beings' according to their makers but I believe the lawyers let the ball drop on this matter.

Until the Supreme Court, Congress, Senate can show me the "Birth Certificate" of the Corporation of two Human Parents, who shared sperm/egg to create...Corpor ations are Paper and nothing more even in their bank balance.

Push coming to shove for these Hypocritical People United or Hypocritical Religion numbnuts who say that Gays are not Legal to Marry, Share Life/Love or have the right to children better be prepared to see the writing on the Wall of their Donors...since that is all these shills are about $$$$$$$.

Believe it is about time some Good Minds start working to turn the tables on the 'Crites'
+7 # jwb110 2012-01-10 20:08
It looks like cities, and counties and municipalities and individual states have taken a cue from OWS. It is possible to take a stand and Democracy is a from the bottom up process. I think that US has a chance to survive the BENT of the US Supreme Court.
+5 # sheila Cee 2012-01-10 21:16
One point that people are missing by allowing Corporations to contribute as they will to campaigns is that "ANY" corporation can do so. "Any" means that a foreign corporation can do so as well. How about a corporation in Saudi Arabia, or United Arab Emeritus, or any other despotic nation who would like to take over the U..S.?
+8 # Vegan_Girl 2012-01-10 21:33
Our democracy was not all that healthy before Citizens United. This is a good fight - but not enough. We have to get money out of politics.

One way to do that would be through a constitutional convention. We could end a campaign finance amendment. I can't see this happening through Congress.
+6 # Terrapin 2012-01-10 22:01
The BOTTOM LINE to claiming "Personhood" is the possession of a BELLYBUTTON!

Any other definition is a psychotic break with Reality.

Five units on the Supreme Court MUST be removed as, by their official Actions, incontrovertabl y and undebateably INSANE.
+11 # Willman 2012-01-10 22:02
All this mess is GWB's legacy thru his Supreme court nominations. Just think if the election wasn't stolen from Gore where we might be.
0 # Salsa 2012-01-13 09:30
If there were only one reason to reelect President Obama, this would be the one, SC appointments.
+1 # gdp1 2012-01-11 09:11
This court,indulging in activism for the prurient glee in so doing...has done so at the expense of the persons who lack the money to speak. Scalia,Roberts, Alito,Thomas,Ke nnedy....laughi ng while smelling each other's farts. A fart party, simply to jigger the nation, simply to show that they can. And we, the people, will have to amend the Constitution to set the world back straight.The court knows this,the larger point being the TIME and ENERGY and EXPENSE of such an enterprise. The court smugly chuckles...the people wonder WHY such an idiotic ruling?.....A FART PARTY ......heh heh heh heh heh heh heh
+1 # Binaroundawhile 2012-01-11 16:58
There ARE good ideas here being posted. We all know and feel the rug being pulled out from under American middle class citizens. So many who post here will say that the Democrats are the same as the corrupt Republicans and tea party crazies. Nothing is further from the truth. Those who say something like that need to review history. The over-arching reality and facts are that ONLY THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY has produced any legislation OF ANY KIND that has protected and been of direct benefit to the working class people of this country. Regulations, union protections, environmental protections, providing Social Security and Medicare for the elderly who worked their whole lives to keep making this country better for the next generation, clean air, clean water, oil drilling restrictions to protect and preserve irreplaceable resources, the ONLY party to rein in and regulate the financial, insurance and banking industries, on and on. Which party did these things? Which party fights to keep these things???? ONLY ONE!!! THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY. The other poster agrees with me .... the ONLY and the BEST step at this late date is complete, overwhelming majorities of Democrats in BOTH HOUSES. Vote with your brains this time and not your emotions.
0 # lilpat126 2012-01-12 12:49
The trick is top get peoples noses out the "reality" programs on TV, off of social media on the net, to hang up their various communication media long enough to wake up and see what it going on. While there are some of us who write letters to the editor, post on the net, we need to talk. Talk to anyone you can pin down even for only a couple of minutes. Express your point of view to everyone, even if you never saw them before or will probably never see them again. My husband thought I was crazy for my letters to the editor until he found out that I have a following. Guys he knows envy him. I just sign them with initials and last name. I found out people were looking the phone book and everywhere they could to find out who I was. Even the editor of the paper was pleased when I was introduced to him. If someone asks I answer truthfully but I don't advertise. It is fun.
+1 # Bope2 2012-01-12 18:54
I suggest that Congress pass a law that any publicly traded corporation must disclose any direct or indirect expenditure of corporate funds for the purpose of influencing campaigns or legislation, and that such expenditures must be approved by a majority vote of the company's shareholders. If money is speech, at least the corporations should be required to speak in the open. Shareholders should be able to say whether they want their profits to go into lobbying and political campaigns instead of their dividend checks. This could be called the "right to profit" law.

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