BPW Foundation's Women Misbehavin' Blog

Well behaved women never make history

A Decision with Supreme Consequence

Posted by egehl on February 1, 2010

Much of the news surrounding the President’s State of the Union address was his comment regarding the Supreme Court’s recent decision on campaign finance, and the unexpected reaction from Justice Alito.  So what are the implications of this decision and how will it impact future elections and campaigning?

The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission concerned the application of certain election laws.  In a 5-4 decision, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy and joined by Justice Alito, the court held that corporations, labor unions and other organizations had the right under the First Amendment to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence the outcomes of elections.

Organizations are now free to increase their advertising and tell people how to vote for individual candidates.  Before the decision, high powered organizations had to funnel money through political action committees to pay for ads, with limits on what they could spend.  However now after this landmark decision, if one of these entities decides to saturate the media airwaves about their support or opposition towards a candidate, including on the eve of an election, the Supreme Court gives it permission.

In a CNN interview with former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Conner, she expressed particular concern in regards to this ruling because of the potential for increased funding of judicial campaigns. She said that it goes against the original goals of the framers of the Constitution which wanted to achieve an independent federal judiciary. Thereby increasing funding around judicial campaigns could potentially turn judges into political elected figures by the people with the means to support them.

By rolling back previous restrictions this decision could open the floodgates of outrageously funded attack ads in upcoming elections.  It gives the green light for special interests on both sides of the aisle to unleash excessive amounts of fundraising to a degree that an election’s outcome is essentially bought, and not the true democratic choice of the people. 

Organizations such as insurance companies, banks, drug companies, energy companies and unions can now be prompted to each spend $5 million, $10 million or more to elect or defeat a federal candidate, which will have an immense influence over a candidate’s position. I don’t know about you, but that’s a scary thought because already the public is treated like a ping pong ball with attack ads trying to sway our vote.

The majority’s decision was based on the premise of free speech.  However should corporations be treated equally as individuals when it comes to defending free speech? The majority felt so stating that speech is an essential mechanism of democracy and political speech should not be hindered.  Those opposed to the decision feel that it’s inaccurate that corporations are treated equally as individual persons. 

While free speech is at the core of our democracy, the Supreme Court has now created a huge imbalance that disadvantages an organization’s ability to support a candidate if they don’t have the right amount of funding.  Campaign finance reform equals the playing field.  It allows the voters who should really be at the center of the political process, and often don’t have the means to have a strong enough voice, to be the true determinant of an election.  Unlimited corporate spending threatens to drown out those voices that ironically have the greatest stake in who gets elected.  And that’s the biggest shame in all of this.

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One Response to “A Decision with Supreme Consequence”

  1. gansie said

    i’m still shocked that this is the way our elections will work. do you know if there’s anything in the works to get this back to SCOTUS or do you think one of the 2010 elections could help reverse this?

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