Playing chess with corporations

 “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” - Upton Sinclair

On August 1st WILPF joined the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy, Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County, Shays 2: The Western Massachusetts Committee on Corporations & Democracy, and the Clements Foundation in a friend of the court brief to the U.S. Supreme Court.  

The brief, drafted and filed by attorney Jeff Clements in the case of Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission, represented all five organizations in urging the Supreme Court not to overturn laws preventing corporations from making political contributions in federal elections.

“The notion that corporations have the same speech rights as people under our Bill of Rights is contrary to the words, history, spirit and intent of our Constitution,” said attorney Jeff Clements. “The organizations that joined to bring these arguments to the Court have worked with others for many years to empower democratic self-government. They remind us that corporations do not vote, speak, or act as people do, but are products of government policy to achieve economic and charitable ends. As such, corporations need not be allowed to influence our elections if Congress and state governments judge that such influence is detrimental to democracy.”

The Supreme Court is considering overturning federal campaign regulations for corporations, originally enacted in 1907, and may soon overrule previous Supreme Court decisions that have upheld the constitutionality of legislative restrictions on corporate money in politics.

The case now before the Court began when a tax-exempt nonprofit corporation calling itself Citizens United challenged the constitutionality of a federal ban on expenditures for “electioneering communications” by corporations and labor unions within 60 days of an election. The ban is part of the federal Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. Under the Act, corporations and labor unions may still contribute to Political Action Committees.

Citizens United argued that the restrictions under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act violated the Constitution as applied to the corporation that sought to distribute an anti-Hillary Clinton movie during the 2008 presidential primaries. A panel of three federal district court judges upheld the regulation of corporate expenditures, and agreed that the Federal Election Commission could enforce the law. The District Court relied on a 2003 Supreme Court case, McConnell vs. Federal Election Commission, 540 U.S. 93 (2003), that had ruled that the corporate expenditure regulation did not violate the free speech guarantees of the First Amendment. Citizens United appealed to the Supreme Court.

If  the Supreme Court overrules McConnell and Austin vs. MI Chamber of Commerce, First Amendment rights claimed by corporations will be significantly expanded and local, state, and federal governments will be further restricted in the ability to regulate corporations and corporate influence on our democratic processes.

A copy of the amicus brief can be read at http://www.clementsllc.com/home/Whats_New.html

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