Shouts Of Protest At Supreme Court On Citizens United Anniversary

22 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Activist Group Protests During Supreme Court Session for Second Time.

WASHINGTON—Audience outbursts during Supreme Court proceedings are rare, but one group protesting a landmark campaign-finance ruling on Wednesday pulled off its second disruption in less than a year.Like most landmark cases, the fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision evoked a strong reaction to the politically astute: protesters disrupted the high court’s Wednesday session, more than a few pundits condemned the decision in online think-pieces and the hashtag #CitizensUnited verged on going viral — and not in a good way.

It paved the way for the creation of so-called super PACs, and unlimited, undisclosed contributions to outside groups that are often impossible to track. The courtroom disturbance began shortly after 10 a.m., when the justices took the bench to announce a trio of decisions and hear oral arguments in two pending cases, including a high-stakes fair-housing case. Scotusblog picks up the story: “Just after the justices had taken the bench at 10 a.m., and as they were about to announce opinions, a woman stood from her seat near the back of the courtroom and said, ‘I rise on behalf of democracy.’ She continued with a mention of Citizens United, the 2010 ruling that removed limits on independent political expenditures by corporations and unions.

One by one, several protesters yelled criticisms of the Citizens United ruling from the audience section and police officers moved quickly to remove the activists from the ornate courtroom. Three Supreme Court police officers quickly converged on her.” President Obama observed the anniversary more decorously, issuing a statement saying, in part: “Our democracy works best when everyone’s voice is heard, and no one’s voice is drowned out. The growth of money in politics has also caused calls for reform to grow louder, and on Wednesday proponents of campaign finance reform protested on Capitol Hill and across the nation. But five years ago, a Supreme Court ruling allowed big companies – including foreign corporations – to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence our elections.

It’s time to reverse this trend.” John Malcolm, a fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, argues the Citizens’ United critics, including the former constitutional law professor in the house at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., have it all wrong. The 2009 ruling, he tells Whispers, basically confirmed influences that were already present in and fundamental to the political system — including anonymous donations, corporate influence and the ability of technology to level the playing field. According to an analysis from the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan government transparency group, outside spending on Senate races has more than doubled since 2010, to $486 million during the midterms. With each new campaign season, this dark money floods our airwaves with more and more political ads that pull our politics into the gutter.” Not exactly.

In a nutshell, the justices’ 5-4 ruling in 2009 said political spending, like speech, is protected under the First Amendment, and corporations, unions and interest groups like the NAACP had the same rights as individuals.That essentially struck down campaign contribution laws governing large entities, allowing them to spend on campaigns — as long as it’s done independently of a party or particular political candidate. When the commotion subsided, Chief Justice John Roberts looked out over the courtroom with a tiny smile and puckishly announced, “Our second order of business …” But the protest was not over. And more of that money than ever before comes from a small pool of wealthy donors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which found that just 1% of donors gave nearly 68% of the $828 million raised by super PACs in 2012 — a number that’s only expected to grow in 2016. Liberals and good-government types said that opened the floodgates to interest-group spending, giving deep-pocketed corporations outsized influence over elections: the candidate with the most money, or an agenda in line with corporate interests, gets an unfair advantage. More shouters stood, only to be hauled out, with the chief justice helpfully pointing out to the guards that “there are a couple more over there.” In all, eight protesters were arrested and charged, and the court moved on to the business of the day — announcing opinions and hearing oral arguments.

To keep up with the influx of outside spending, in many cases Democrats have been forced to reverse stances in favor of tougher regulations and public financing and embrace the super PAC. Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathleen Arberg confirmed that seven people have been charged with violating a federal law that makes it illegal to make “a harangue or oration” in the Supreme Court building. Not so, Malcolm says: Consider candidates who compete for newspaper editorial board endorsements, say, or snag a friendly, prime-time interview with Fox News or MSNBC. “We happen to have media conglomerates, which are for-profit corporations, and they control the message” most voters receive about an issue or candidate, he says. “[Liberals] think corporations are evil and never have the best interests of the people in mind. They don’t like [Citizens United] because they want to hear the voice of the New York Times and the Washington Post, and not the voice of Exxon Mobil.” As for “dark money,” Malcolm says the left has created a nefarious term for something that’s pretty common in politics: anonymous donations. He once promised to pursue reforms, but turned his campaign committee into an advocacy group to collect unlimited donations for his re-election campaign and has been largely quiet on the issue.

The court could have resolved the issue before it – whether the Federal Election Commission could restrict a conservative group’s video-on-demand mockumentary about Hillary Rodham Clinton – without ruling that corporations had a right to air any and all “electioneering communications” close to an election. If money equals political participation, and that equals speech, he says, deep-pocketed campaign donors are acting in the tradition of Thomas Paine (who called for American revolution under a pseudonym) and the NAACP, which fought to keep contributor lists private during the civil rights movement to avoid violent reprisals. “We have a very rich tradition in this country of anonymous speech,” Malcolm says, allowing people to join the debate “without risking a potential backlash or reprisal for supporting unpopular causes.” While Obama and others on the left blame Citizens United for allowing corporations to politically overwhelm small, independent voices, Malcolm waved off those concerns: “The blogosphere is full of concerned citizens … nobody is being silenced. There were real problems of overbreadth with that provision of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, which presumed that any broadcast mentioning a candidate was a campaign ad. Instead it overturned all limits on corporate “electioneering communications.” Citizens United inspired a lower-court decision that encouraged wealthy individuals to contribute to independent political action committees. And it did allow corporate money to flow into election-related advertising, though much less than critics of the decision expected. (Many companies seem to have realized that spending on political campaigns might alienate shareholders and customers.) But a lot of what you’ve heard about Citizens United is wrong.

Besides, the Constitution isn’t going to be amended to overrule Citizens United — any more than it was amended after a public outcry about another unpopular 1st Amendment decision, the 1989 ruling striking down laws against burning the American flag. Those who bewail the influence of “dark money” and the proliferation of “gutter” politics should set their sights on achievable reforms: fuller and timelier disclosure, an end to the charade of “social welfare” groups spending money on election advocacy, and tougher measures to ensure that independent groups really are independent.

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