Thursday, January 15, 2015

On the 5th Anniversary of Citizens United, Urge your Congressional Members to Put Democracy Back in the Hands of Voters

January 21, 2015 marks the fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, defining a corporation as a ‘person’ with the same free speech rights under the First Amendment as individuals. Moreover, it held that political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment of the Constitution. This decision undid campaign-finance law that protected voters from undue corporate influence and prevented corporations and unions from electioneering. Now, they can influence elections by funding campaigns through political action committees and financing political ads.

The Citizens United decision set a precedent for the further opening of campaign spending by wealthy individuals and interest groups. In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission that corporations and wealthy donors are no longer limited in their aggregate biennial contributions to campaigns.

Together, these decisions have created a disaster for the promise of democracy – a promise that says that every voice counts. More now than ever, the voices of profit-seeking corporations and special interests are louder and hold the attention of our elected officials more than the voices the average Americans.

In the past five years, we have seen an unprecedented amount of spending each election cycle.  These large contributions by corporations and wealthy interest groups have influenced our nation’s policies. Legislation to end gun violence address climate change, and pass just immigration reform have failed partly due to hefty campaign contributions from the companies that profit from these social problems. Our lawmakers are beholden to the interests of those that help them get elected. For example, ninety percent of Americans support some kind of gun control, like universal background checks, yet such legislation lies fallow in Congress. Lawmakers and and private interests have facilitated the appalling privatization of our prison system, because they stand to make money on the backs of prisoners.  Little will change until we demand that the wealthiest no longer have greater access and power over our lawmakers than the average citizen.

The Christian Call to Respond

As Christians we are called to be prophetic in how we care for the most marginalized and vulnerable people in our nation. They are the ones most affected by the disproportionate voice of money in politics. To be good partners and advocates for the issues that matter most to them, we must stand for change.

In “Lift Every Voice: Democracy, Voting Rights, and Electoral Reform,” the 218th General Assembly stated that:

“Large sums of money, and the time needed to raise it, dominate our electoral and legislative processes. Money buys access to legislators as well as to the details in legislation. If they reject special interest money, candidates fear that their opponents will outspend them—and spending counts: incumbents almost always raise more money than challengers, and the candidate who spends the most money almost always wins. (For House seats, the number is more than 90 percent.) Because the Supreme Court has ruled [that] campaign contributions are a protected form of “speech,” the most important reform to enhance the voice of citizens and reduce the role of powerful special interests and big money in elections is public financing. Under such systems, candidates or parties receive public funds to replace or augment private money. Public funding can curb the appearance of the influence of big money over lawmakers, encourage candidates with limited resources to run for office, and allow politicians to spend less time raising money and more time serving their constituents.” [emphasis added] - Lift Every Voice: Democracy, Voting Rights, and Electoral Reform. P. 14

Is Campaign Finance Reform Possible?

In September 2014, the Senate voted on a joint resolution ‘Democracy for All’, that would overturn Citizens United and McCutcheon v. FEC, as well as establish that Congress and the states can regulate election spending. This was a historic vote; even though it failed to receive the 60 votes necessary to end debate, it is the farthest an amendment of this kind has advanced. It showed that concern for the undue influence of money in politics is growing among our legislators. We are calling for the 114th Congress to bring a Constitutional Amendment back to the floor.

The Office of Public Witness is participating in a broad-based effort to highlight the damage Citizens United has done to our democracy in the last five years. On January 21, we will join with our partners in the faith and advocacy community to rally in D.C. in front of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to bring attention to the issue.