Campaign Finance Ruling in the Supreme Court Leaves Little Room for Reform | Civil Eats

Campaign Finance Ruling in the Supreme Court Leaves Little Room for Reform

In a ruling yesterday, the Supreme Court rolled back campaign finance laws to the pre-Watergate era:

Sweeping aside a century-old understanding and overruling two important precedents, a bitterly divided Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the government may not ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections.

The ruling was a vindication, the majority said, of the First Amendment’s most basic free speech principle — that the government has no business regulating political speech. The dissenters said allowing corporate money to flood the political marketplace will corrupt democracy.

The 5-to-4 decision was a doctrinal earthquake but also a political and practical one. Specialists in campaign finance law said they expected the decision, which also applies to labor unions and other organizations, to reshape the way elections are conducted.

I’ll say. Corporations will now be able to run ads supporting or opposing particular candidates up until the day before an election. While unions will likely gain the same right, they have never been able to spend more than a fraction of what large corporations typically do in an election year.

The majority opinion also offered some magical thinking in its ruling when it dismissed any risk that corporations might exert undue influence over elections as it referred to corporations as just another kind of “association of citizens.” Sadly, large corporations more often act like amoral, profit-driven robots—not the kind of associations any reasonable person would want pouring millions (perhaps up to a billion) dollars into federal campaign advertising.

This ruling will have profound affects not just on elections but on the very concept of reform in all areas of government. One of food policy expert Marion Nestle’s favorite refrains is that the best way to fix the food system is to remove corporate influence from government—she even lists that point as an important element in any attempt to fix food safety. And you need only read Grist’s Dave Roberts to hear the affect corporate money has on the debate over cilmate legislation.

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This Supreme Court ruling solidifies corporations’ position as the ultimate power in American politics—they can use their deep pockets to assault voters with advertisements to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt on any issue and on any candidate they choose. And unlike elected officials, corporations are accountable to no one but their shareholders, especially if they’ve managed to stack regulatory deck in their favor.

Anyone who believes that we need to address climate change, our food system, our exposure to toxic chemicals and our energy policy to put this country on a sustainable path should be outraged by the Supreme Court’s ruling—President Obama certainly is. There are election reform bills pending in Congress that may now get a boost but the fact is—barring Supreme Court retirements—nothing short of a constitutional amendment will close the Pandora’s Box this unconscionable ruling has opened. You have been warned.

Originally published on Grist

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Tom Laskawy is a founder and executive director of the Food & Environment Reporting Network. His writing on food politics and the environment has appeared online in Grist, The American Prospect, Slate, The New York Times, and The New Republic Read more >

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  1. Harlan
    Indeed. What's needed is a constitutional amendment with four words, "Corporations are not people." Then everything else follows.
  2. fumbling around
    Unbelievable. I can imagine all the taglines now: Pepsi presents The United States of America. Nancy Pelosi is brought to you by Nip/Tuck on Tuesdays only on FX. In-N-Out Burger approves this message by Barney Frank. Mike Bloomberg says 'Monsanto Cares'.

    Seriously, with this ruling it looks like the beginning of the end of democracy in the U.S. and of government of/by/for The People. Between this ruling and Geithner/Bernanke/Too Big To Fail bankster financial looting, most of America might look like Haiti or Detroit in 20 years!
  3. Betty Ann
    There is a MOVE TO AMEND. Check it out.
    http://www.movetoamend.org/we-corporations

    We, the People of the United States of America, reject the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United, and move to amend our Constitution to:

    * Firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.

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