Voter advocacy and campaign finance reform advocates are up in arms over last Thursday's Supreme Court decision that overturned legislation prohibiting corporations, unions and other special interest groups from spending their money to advocate for a specific candidate. Since the Court's controversial 5-4 ruling, talk radio waves have been abuzz with claims that the decision overturns century old restrictions on corporations, special interest groups and unions in political campaigns.
But the fact checkers at politifact.com have called into question the truthfulness of this statement, saying it ""ignores the fact that the ban on direct donations from corporations to campaigns still exists"" and exaggerates ""the scope of the ruling and how long the laws have been on the books."" (A more in depth explanation of campaign finance legislation from the Tillman Act of 1907 to the Austin case of 1990 can be found on www.politifact.com.) President Obama has also spoken out in opposition to the Court's ruling stating during his weekly address, ""This ruling strikes at our democracy itself.""
While I would agree that unregulated corporate spending during campaigns strikes at democracy, the Supreme Court's decision to recognize corporations, unions and special interests as individuals, granted the rights and privileges of individuals in the eyes of the government, upholds the First Amendment of the Constitution and in doing so supports our democracy.
Many politicians and pundits have been glossing over the actual substance of the Court's decision. The Court is not ruling in favor of wealthy corporations' campaign spending. The Court only specified that corporations, in the eyes of the law, be recognized as individuals with First Amendment rights. As a result of the Supreme Court's decision, corporations, just like you and I, have the right to spend their money as they wish, meaning organizations can spend their money to campaign for and show support of a candidate running for office.
But those interested in campaign finance reform should focus their efforts somewhere other than calling the Supreme Court's decision into question. Another McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002 is not the answer. Working within the law, and with the High Court's ruling in mind, legislators should craft an amendment stating that corporations and organizations are not individuals, such as you and I, with political power. In addition, legislation should be passed that prohibits corporations that do business with the government from campaigning for a candidate.
Campaign finance reform got a lot of lip service during the last presidential election. But President Obama's record breaking campaign a year and a half ago, which raised more money than all 2004 presidential candidates combined, demonstrated once again that political office, especially the White House, is unattainable in the absence of vast financial resources. Bringing wealthy organizations into the political mix, corporations whose profits may exceed $10 billion a year (such as Exxon in 2008) grants special interests unprecedented and unchecked political power and places public office beyond the reach of non-career politicians.
In response to the Supreme Court's ruling, legislation that distinguishes and differentiates between individuals and organizations must be passed. By doing so, the limits put on corporate spending by the McCain-Feingold act, among other legislation, would still be valid. Attaining political office should not be about who knows who, or worse, who knows who with money. Voters should decide elections based on the issues, away from the influence and bombardment of propaganda.
Campaign finance reform is long overdue in this country, but it is not the responsibility of the Supreme Court to take on this reform. The responsibility of the Supreme Court is to uphold the Constitution. It is up to the legislators to work within the parameters of the Constitution. Amending the Constitution to define who or what does or does not constitute an individual with political power is the first step in working towards campaign finance reform. This seems to be the path of least resistance as an amendment would make valid the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002.
However, the fact remains that the Supreme Court heard the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and the Court is likely to hear campaign finance related cases in the future. There are wealthy organizations in this country interested and invested in political power, especially the power to swing elections. These organizations will stop at nothing to get more than their fair piece of the pie. Until political campaigns in this country are publicly funded, the election process will continue to be threatened by special interests. Thankfully the Supreme Court's ruling last week brought this important issue, which does indeed strike at democracy, the attention it deserves in our national dialog.
Kathy Dittrich is a senior majoring in French and English. We welcome all feedback. Please send all responses to email@example.com.