By Doug Kendall, Founder & President, Constitutional Accountability Center (on whose blog this piece was originally published.)
You've probably heard by now that next week the Supreme Court will break up its summer recess to hear argument, for the second time, in Citizens United v. FEC. You may have the sense that this doesn't happen often and that something important is going on. If so, you're right and then some.
The case involves a film, Hillary: The Movie, that was produced by Citizens United, a conservative, non-profit corporation, to coincide with the 2008 presidential primary season. The case began as a fairly sleepy challenge to the Federal Election Commission's (FEC's) decision to treat the film's production and release as corporate electioneering subject to campaign finance regulations, but was transformed by an order issued by the Supreme Court on June 29th. Here are five reasons why Citizens United is now a truly momentous case:
- 1. President Palin, Courtesy of Chevron: Let's start with the biggest and most obvious reason this is a momentous case. Citizens United is arguing that expenditures by corporations in elections should be treated identically to those of individuals. If the Court accepts this argument, it would do away with a distinction that has been in place in our Constitution since the Founding and our statutory law since the Tillman Act of 1907 (as explained in the brief CAC filed in Citizens United), and allow corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money in elections. To appreciate how scary this change would be, consider that, according to the FEC, the Republican and Democratic parties combined spent slightly more than $1.5 billion between January 1, 2007, and December 31, 2008, while Fortune Magazine reports that the 10 most profitable companies during the same period earned combined profits of over $350 billion. This contrast reveals that unleashing even a tiny fraction of corporate profits - from just a handful of companies - could overwhelm the campaign system with money that represents the narrowest interests of private, profit-driven entities.