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Chelsea Green Blog

The Hell Child: Citizens United Enters the Terrible Twos

Today marks the second anniversary of the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad U.S. Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United. Yes, it’s true, our little devil-may-care campaign spending hellion is now entering his terrible twos.

And it shows.

If any one felt as if the United States was a plutocracy wearing democracy as a fig leaf, Citizens United stripped away the remaining fragments of illusion and laid it all bare. The problem, is do enough people actually care?

Cries from the dozens of Occupy Wall Street protests and encampments around the country included calls for an end to the influence of limitless corporate donations on our elections, if not an end to the notion that somehow corporations are people. I mean, really, can they be turned into Soylent Green? I think not.

If you think we’ve seen the worst of big-money influence on our elections, think again: Read this eye-popping report from our pals at AlterNet, which outlines just how much money some corporations are prepared to spend — and others to earn — thanks to Citizens United.

How to stop it?

It’s not as easy as it seems, as Stephen Rosenfeld points out at Alternet, but the Internet-wide effort to thwart proposed “piracy” legislation gives some hope that a focused, concerted “strike” against those in power can have a positive, if potentially short-term, effect and victory.

The electoral system is rigged against actual populist uprisings and what ordinary folks want from their politicians and the government. In this game, free speech is most protected for those who can spend more. Most of us can’t pump unlimited monies into a SuperPAC — or have a platform like satirist  Stephen Colbert to mock these Hydra-esque offshoots of Citizens United.

As Gina Kim at Moyers.com points out in this great interview with Ellen Miller of the Sunlight Foundation, there may be ways in which we can bring greater attention to the companies and individuals donating to these SuperPACs as a way to better inform voters about who’s behind these groups. Legislation is in the works that would force donors to be listed publicly. Gee, imagine that!

A recent court ruling in California gives hope that local laws aimed at blunting the worst effects of Citizens United can be written in such a way as to stand the test of a court challenge.

We need more local efforts like that out of San Diego to combat Citizens United as it’s likely attempts at the federal level will meet with strong resistance by those who benefit from the status quo created under Citizens United.

Here in Vermont, lawmakers recently introduced a resolution — which, if adopted would be the first of its kind by a state legislature — calling on Congress to initiate a constitutional amendment to undo the damage of Citizens United. Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has launched a petition calling for support of just such a constitutional amendment — one that he’s introduced in the Senate. Close to 190,000 people have signed the petition so far — have you? You should.

There’s also a statewide effort in Vermont to get folks on Town Meeting Day to also call on Congress to amend the constitution. The state’s largest city has already approved the question to be placed on its ballot. More are expected to follow suit this month. Town meetings are held in communities across the state in March and, while not binding votes, can help to send a clear message to policymakers about what citizens expect from their government.

You should be asking your local representatives and elected officials to be doing the same.

If I recall correctly, the preamble to the Constitution reads, “We the People …” not “We the People Corporations … .”


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