In the Citizens United States of America, Mr. Smith will never be able to get to Washington again unless he decides to play crony to big money. The problems that face our reprivate (the opposite of a republic…) — polarizing verbal attacks, inability to accomplish simple legislative tasks, limitless advertising disinformation — share the same roots: Citizens United vs. FEC.
New York Senator Chuck Schumer has called the Citizens United debacle the Supreme Court’s worst decision since Plessy v. Ferguson, the infamous ruling that upheld racial segregation. He may be right, because allowing corporations to freely and legally buy elections has created a political culture where no politician feels the need to answer to their constituency. Only the donors survive.
The Supreme Court, led by conservative Chief Justice John Roberts, is currently deciding whether or not it will revisit the case in the wake of the Montana Supreme Court declaring the law unconstitutional. But nobody’s holding their breath. Citizens United is often blamed for the rise of corporate power in politics, but it has had the equally chilling effect of allowing people to use their amassed wealth to influence candidates. This may seem slightly nuanced, but spending to promote someone with his or her own ideas and goals is different than spending to have someone promote your ideas and goals. The latter may actually be more harmful. Fred Wertheimer, a champion of campaign-finance laws, recently said the Citizens United vs. FEC decision “has fundamentally undermined our democracy and is taking the nation back to the system of ‘legalized bribery’ that existed in the robber baron and Watergate eras.”
There are grassroots organizations, namely Move To Amend, which have sought to educate and rally the public about the effects of the decision but, aside from waiting for the SCOTUS to become less conservative — a terribly open-ended non-solution — there is little for the enraged citizen to do. The question, “How do we take our nation back?” remains unanswered.
Still, Mother Jones writers Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery recently published their four-part DIY guide for how to end the Citizens United era of American politics. It is part farce, not because they are joking necessarily, but because, as we stated above, the way the Supreme Court is set up leaves little wiggle room for the agents of change. Give ‘er a read…