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Supreme Court’s campaign ruling: a bad day for democracy

US Congress must respond swiftly and forcefully to ensure that corporations do not take over the electoral process.

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Thursday was a bad day for democracy. The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission paves the way for unlimited corporate and union spending in elections, and the drowning out of the average citizen’s voice in our public policy debates. In other words, the court has made a bad situation worse by enhancing the ability of the deepest-pocketed special interests to influence elections and the US Congress.

In its 5-to-4 decision, the Roberts Court declares outright that corporate expenditures cannot corrupt elected officials, that influence over lawmakers is not corruption, and that appearance of influence will not undermine public faith in our democracy. These are unsubstantiated claims that will change the ground rules of American democracy.

As Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in his dissent, “the court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt.”

Justice Stevens explained that corporations are not themselves members of “We the People” by whom and for whom our Constitution was established. He lamented that the court used “a sledgehammer rather than a scalpel” when it struck down one of Congress’s most significant efforts to regulate the role that corporations and unions play in electoral politics. Stevens added that the court negated Congress’s efforts “without a shred of evidence.”

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