A Fatal Blow To Fairness In Elections

The first arguments the newly-installed Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor heard were those between the political advocacy group Citizens United and the Federal Elections Commission. The case concerned the rights of Citizens United to air on DirectTV a documentary film critical of a presidential candidate within 30 days of the presidential primary elections.

In 2002, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act was passed. The otherwise-known McCain-Feingold Act effectively silenced for-profit and not-for-profit groups in the 30 days before a primary election and 60 days before a general election by prohibiting them from making any electioneering broadcasts within that time frame. Citizens United’s plan to air the movie clashed with the Federal Election Commission, and the case made the Supreme Court’s docket by appeal in August of 2008, was argued on March 24, 2009 and was reargued on September 9, 2009.

On January 21, 2010, the Court handed down its decision, a 5-4 vote in favor of Citizens United, thereby recognizing the right of for-profit and not-for-profit groups to transmit candidate-oriented messages over the airwaves at any time during these campaigns.This split decision was based on the principle that campaign contributions and communications are a form a free speech, and that anyone, whether an organization or an individual, should not have this speech restricted.

In a perfect world, this would be ideal: any person, organization or business entity would have an equal share in voicing their opinions. But unfortunately, in a political climate where large interests in the form of corporations, unions, and powerful advocacy groups on either side of the political spectrum wield great political power, the individual voice loses out. Here we have a situation where “equality under the law” in the strictest sense becomes the direct source of an unequal opportunity to exercise freedom of speech.

The truth is, corporations are not people, and as a result should not be treated as such. The first amendment prohibits government censorship of speech, not distinguishing between speech from an individual or speech from an organization. So at first, it seems clear cut that this equality should be applied to all humans and organizations that represent humans and human interests. But the influence of organizations and corporations especially, tend to dominate politics to the point of leaving the individual and less resourced organizations powerless in what is supposed to be a representative democracy.

Sweeping campaign reform, monopoly-busting, and trust-busting was successfully introduced in the early 1900’s, loosening large organizations’ undue grip on local, state, and federal governments. The McCain-Feingold Act in 2002 was the latest step in curtailing big-business and big-labors’ undue influence in politics by, among other things, banning “soft money”–contributions to political parties that are for the most part unmonitored and therefore largely unchecked–and regulating electioneering communications which tend to the be exclusive domain of heavily-resourced organizations.

This recent ruling now allows powerful groups representing enormous sums of money to run extensive campaigns. It threatens to negate nearly a century of campaign finance reform. To endow an organization with the same rights as a person is only setting up the insititutionalized corruption of politics; there is absolutely no need for corrpution to be legalized.

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