Fred Wertheimer

  • January 21, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Fred Wertheimer, President, Democracy 21. Democracy 21 is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works to strengthen democracy, prevent government corruption and empower citizens in the political process.                                                                    

    On January 21, 2010, five Supreme Court justices rejected decades of the Court’s own precedent and a century of national policy aimed at keeping corporate money out of our elections to issue the Citizens United decision.

    In issuing the decision, Chief Justice Roberts and his four colleagues wreaked havoc on our democracy and our constitutional system of representative government.

    Five years later, these five justices have bequeathed the following to the American people:

    • More than $1 billion in unlimited contributions that have flowed into federal elections through Super PACs – including more than $300 million through single-candidate Super PACS used by federal candidates and their supporters to circumvent and eviscerate candidate contribution limits.
    • More than $500 million in secret, unlimited contributions that have flowed into federal elections through tax-exempt 501(c) organizations.

    Citizens United has returned to federal elections massive amounts of the same kinds of money that played a central role in the Watergate corruption scandals – unlimited contributions and secret money.

    In 1976, the Supreme Court in Buckley v. Valeo upheld the constitutionality of contribution limits that were enacted in response to the Watergate scandals.  The Court found that “corruption” is “inherent” in a system of unlimited contributions.  The Court also upheld disclosure on the grounds that “disclosure requirements deter actual corruption.”

    In 2012, more than thirty-five years later, U.S. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Richard Posner explained the destructive impact of Citizens United.  Judge Posner, widely considered the most influential conservative judge not on the Supreme Court, said in an NPR interview:

    Our political system is pervasively corrupt due to our Supreme Court taking away campaign- contribution restrictions on the basis of the First Amendment.

    The Citizens United decision, written for the majority by Justice Anthony Kennedy, is based on a series of indefensible, if not astonishing, premises.

  • February 19, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    If you thought the U.S. Supreme Court’s right-wing justices were finished tackling the scope and reach of campaign finance law with its 2010 Citizens United v. FEC, you were wrong.

    The high court, with its announcement today to review limits on contributions to candidates during two-year election cycles, could be ready to extend even more leeway to the nation’s most powerful to influence elections.

    The justices, as The Huffington Post’s Paul Blumenthal reports, agreed to review a case called McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, which will provide the opportunity to overturn the limits. As Blumenthal notes the limits on contributions were upheld in the Court’s Buckley v. Valeo case, but campaign finance regulations took a major hit with the Court’s Citizens United opinion, which gave corporations greater power to spend freely to influence elections.

    SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Denniston reports that a more pressing concern than tinkering with limits on campaign donations may be lurking in the background. “Since the Supreme Court’s landmark opinion in 1976 in Buckley v. Valeo, it has always given government more leeway to control contributions to candidates or political organizations than over spending by candidates or by independent political activists.  That differing constitutional treatment potentially is at stake in the new case ….”

    Denniston continues, “What is at stake directly is the constitutionality of the two-year ceilings that federal law sets on what an individual can give during a campaign for the presidency or Congress, in donations to candidates, to political parties, or to other political committees.

    Democracy 21, a nonpartisan group working to “eliminate undue influence of big money in American politics,” said the outcome of the case could have “enormous consequences for the country."

    The group’s president, Fred Wertheimer, in a press statement, said the “aggregate limit on contributions by individuals is necessary to prevent circumvention of the limits on contributions to candidates and political parties and the prohibition on federal officeholders soliciting huge corrupting contributions.”

    Wertheimer and the group's counsel, Don Simon, also exmaine in a new ACS Issue Brief the extensive problems with the Federal Election Commission, the agency charged with enforcing the nation's campaign finance laws. The two write that the president has failed to appoint commissioners to the six-member entity and that the FEC is now controlled by members who are "ideologically opposed to the campaign finance laws."

    If the high court were to gut or weaken the limit on contributions it would “open the door to $1 million and $2 million dollar contributions from an individual buying corrupting influence with a powerful officeholder soliciting these contributions, and with the political party and federal candidates benefiting from these seven figure contributions.”

  • January 21, 2011
    Guest Post

    By Fred Wertheimer, president, Democracy 21. This post is part of an ACSblog symposium marking the one-year anniversary of the landmark decision Citizens United v. FEC. Follow Fred Wertheimer on Twitter:
    On January 21, 2010, five Supreme Court justices issued a disastrous decision that initiated a dangerous sea change in American politics.

    The Supreme Court by a 5 to 4 vote in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission struck down a century of U.S. policy and decades of Court precedent to declare unconstitutional the ban on corporate expenditures in federal elections.

    In so doing, the five justices unleashed massive influence-seeking corporate expenditures and opened the door to enormous damage to our democracy.

    Corporations have trillions of dollars and they are now free to spend as much of their money as they want to buy influence over federal officeholders and government decisions.

    The Court decision constituted a political decision by five ideologically conservative justices who ignored history, ignored past precedent and ignored the jurisprudence that normally governs Supreme Court cases. Instead, the ustices issued a decision that represents a classic case of legislating from the bench, a practice repeatedly frowned on by these same justices.

    The rights of citizens are laced throughout our constitution. The word "corporation" never appears.
    Nevertheless, the five "strict constructionist" Justices chose to elevate corporations to the level of citizens in our political process. They conferred on corporations the "constitutional" right to directly participate in our elections, a "constitutional" right that did not exist prior to the day of the decision.

    The Court's decision, furthermore, was built on a series of deeply flawed assumptions.

  • February 1, 2010

    With the Senate Armed Services Committee's hearing on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" scheduled for tomorrow, another hearing on a controversial issue is being overlooked by many.

    The Supreme Court's recent campaign finance ruling in Citizens United v. FEC has drawn the ire of some on Capitol Hill. That case -- and how Congress might blunt its force before the mid-term elections -- is the topic of tomorrow's hearing before the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, entitled "Corporate America vs. The Voter: Examining the Supreme Court's Decision to Allow Unlimited Corporate Spending in Elections."

    The witness list includes two ACSblog guest contributors: Professor Heather Gerken of Yale Law School and Democracy 21's Fred Wertheimer, whose immediate reaction to the decision is available here

    [image via]

  • January 21, 2010
    Guest Post

    By Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer

    Today's Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case is a disaster for the American people and a dark day for the Supreme Court.

    The decision will unleash unprecedented amounts of corporate "influence-seeking" money on our elections and create unprecedented opportunities for corporate "influence-buying" corruption.

    Today's decision is the most radical and destructive campaign finance decision in Supreme Court history. In order to reach the decision, five justices abandoned longstanding judicial principles, judicial precedents and judicial restraint.

    With the Citizens United opinion, Chief Justice Roberts has abandoned the illusory public commitments he made to "judicial modesty" and "respect for precedent" to cast the deciding vote for a radical decision that profoundly undermines our democracy.

    In a stark choice between the right of American citizens to a government free from "influence-buying" corruption and the economic and political interests of American corporations, five Supreme Court Justices today came down in favor of American corporations.

    With a stroke of the pen, five Justices wiped out a century of American history devoted to preventing corporate corruption of our democracy.

    The radical nature of today's decision can be seen in the fact that the Court is overruling cases decided in 1990, 2003 and 2007, without any changed circumstances to justify these abrupt reversals.