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Free Speech v. Democracy: Rounding Up The Citizens United Reactions

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  • Free Speech v. Democracy: Rounding Up The Citizens United Reactions

    Reactions to the Supreme Court’s hugely anticipated Citizens United case are flooding in. We found a good boiled-down explication of the ruling over at The Atlantic’s Web site. Writes Chris Good in a post titled “Bring on the Spending”:
    [The opinion] basically eliminates a middleman: before today, corporations and unions had to set up PACs (political action committees), filed separately with the IRS, that would receive donations. And they did. Corporations and unions spend millions of dollars on elections. Now, however, the accounting firewall is gone, and Wal-Mart or the Service Employees International Union, for instance, can spend their corporate money directly on candidates.

    So how are folks reacting? Campaign-finance reform, and the constitutionality thereof, is by its very nature, sticky. It deals with the intersection of two highly cherished notions in America — freedom of speech and the sanctity of democracy, and the justices in the Citizens United case were forced to wrestle with where, precisely, to draw the line between the two.

    Not surprisingly, perhaps, the reactions from the parties and others close to the issues emphasize the “victory” of whichever side of the divide they’re on — “free speech” or “democracy.” Those on the right side of the political spectrum tended to prioritize the former, those on the left, the latter. That said, we thought you might find interesting this sampling of reactions:

    Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a non-profit that works to remove the influence of private money from politics:
    Today’s Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case is a disaster for the American people and a dark day for the Supreme Court.

    The decision will unleash unprecedented amounts of corporate “influence-seeking” money on our elections and create unprecedented opportunities for corporate “influence-buying” corruption.

    Today’s decision is the most radical and destructive campaign finance decision in Supreme Court history. In order to reach the decision, five justices abandoned longstanding judicial principles, judicial precedents and judicial restraint.

    Gibson Dunn’s Ted Olson, lawyer for Citizens United:
    The decisions that the Court today overruled rested on the faulty premise that political speech can be restricted in order to prevent corporate money from “distorting” political discourse. In fact, the vast majority of corporations are either nonprofit advocacy groups–like Citizens United–or small businesses. Far from “distorting” the political process, the speech of these corporations reflects the views of their members or the entrepreneurial individuals who formed the corporation. Permitting these individuals to have a voice in the political process adds an important perspective to the public debate and enables individuals of limited means to band together to counterbalance the political speech of the super-rich. McCain-Feingold silenced those speakers, and, as the Court concluded, was therefore impossible to reconcile with the First Amendment.

    Common Cause:
    The Supreme Court of the United States handed down a decision today that will enhance the ability of the deepest-pocketed special interests to influence elections and the U.S. Congress, said a pair of leading national campaign finance reform organizations, Common Cause and Public Campaign. The decision in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission, which overturned the ban on independent expenditures by corporations, paves the way for unlimited corporate and union spending in elections.

    Citizens’ United:
    This is a victory for Citizens United, but even more so for the First Amendment rights of all Americans. The fault line on this issue does not split liberals and conservatives or Republicans and Democrats. Instead, it pits entrenched establishment politicians against the very people whom they are elected to serve.

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