By Maddie Peare, a Summer 2012 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern
On July 24, 2012, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights held a hearing to discuss the negative impact on elections and campaign spending as a consequence of the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United decision, which stated that restrictions on how much corporations can spend on political campaigns violate the First Amendment.
Senators and witness argued that by giving people with extraordinary wealth the power to exert a disproportionate influence in politics, Citizens United, along with the current wave of state-enacted Voter ID laws, threatens our democracy and civil rights.
“In today’s political campaigns, our free and fair elections – a founding principle of our great democracy – are for sale to the highest bidder,” said Sen. Tom Udall,
Lawrence Lessig, a Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership at the Harvard Law School, gave insight into the enormous amount of influence a small number of individuals wield through Super PACs. According to Lessig, “In the current presidential election cycle, .000063% of America – that’s 196 citizens – have funded 80 percent of Super PAC spending. Twenty-two Americans – that’s seven one-millionths of 1 percent — account for 50 percent of that funding. Citizens United has thus further shifted the sources of campaign funding toward an ever shrinking few.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D.-Vt., voiced concerns over the fact that while corporations, billionaires, PACs, and Super PACs are gaining more political influence, many ordinary citizens are losing their right to vote through state voter ID laws. “It is becoming increasingly difficult for ordinary, hardworking Americans to cast their votes, while billionaires suddenly are able to contribute at will to shape election results, without having to ‘show any ID ‘ at all,” he said.
In a response to Citizens United, Senator Udall has introduced a constitutional amendment (S.J. Res 29) to limit the influence of those with large amounts of capital and also increase transparency of fundraising for political campaigns. Currently there are 23 co-sponsors. According to Udall, 275 local resolutions have been passed, six state legislatures have called on Congress to send an amendment to the states for ratification, 1.9 million citizens have signed petitions, and more than 100 organizations under the banner of United for the People support a constitutional amendment to limit the impact of Citizens United.
“Corporations, quite simply, are not people. Corporations do not have the same rights, the same morals or the same interests. Corporations cannot vote in our democracy,” Leahy said.