By Billy Corriher, an attorney working in civil rights
With the 2012 election in high gear, the country is tasting the bitter fruit of the Supreme Court's controversial Citizens United v. FEC opinion. Vitriolic political ads - funded by anonymous donors, accountable to no one – are flooding the airwaves in primary states. When these ads go nationwide, the chorus of criticism against Citizens United will only grow louder. We are already seeing local governments and state courts rebuking the Court. The Portland City Council, for example, passed a resolution opposing the idea that corporations are persons with constitutional rights.
In Citizens United, the Court ruled unconstitutional a federal law prohibiting corporations from airing political ads before an election. The Court found that the statute infringed corporations' right to free speech and that this infringement was not justified by a compelling government interest. The Court said, “[I]ndependent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” Although such expenditures may give rise to “the appearance of influence or access,” this was not a problem for the Court because “an independent expenditure is political speech . . . that is not coordinated with a candidate.”
As soon as it was announced, Citizens United came under fire. The idea that five unelected judges understand political corruption better than the United States Congress is absurd, and the notion that Super-PACs are “independent” of the candidates has proven to be a ludicrous legal fiction.