Public Citizen

  • December 11, 2012
    Guest Post

    by Dan Mayer, Legal Fellow at Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People Campaign, which is working towards a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United v. FEC and limiting the influence of corporations and money in elections.

    Six billion dollars. That’s just the reported amount spent to elect or defeat the entire slate of federal candidates in the 2012 cycle.

    To be sure, some of the biggest players in the super PAC game weren’t very efficient about how they used the unlimited contributions they took from their ultra-wealthy individual and corporate patrons. Court rulings in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania put some of the most egregious voter suppression efforts on hold while invigorated civil rights groups worked to turn out every eligible voter they could find. Several prominent candidates suffered “legitimate” humiliation and defeat. And apparently, 47 percent of America wasn’t going to vote for Mitt Romney anyway (or so we hear). 

    Does any of that mean that money doesn’t matter, that the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission era is over as quickly as it began? Don’t bet your democracy on it.

    The Obama campaign outspent the Romney campaign, $549 million to $336 million. The national party committees were close in fundraising (a mere $50 million GOP advantage), but Democrats actually outspent Republicans $814 to $776 million. Outside groups, some disclosing their donors, some not, favored conservatives by $855 million to $406 million in “independent” spending. For all that, in the first full-scale conflagration since Citizen United, the great powers basically fought to a draw, barely moving the lines in Congress.

  • October 20, 2011
    Guest Post

    By Mark Hays, Campaign Coordinator for Public Citizen’s Democracy is for People Campaign, which is building public support for a constitutional amendment that would address the impact of Citizens United v. FEC by restoring the First Amendment and fair elections to the people

    Unless you’re stuck in a windowless room reviewing case law, with no line out to the “interwebs” to speak of (and in which you case you probably aren’t reading this now), you know of the quiet desperation felt by hundreds of millions of Americans. The feeling that there are big problems with fairness and justice in our economy and our political process has bubbled to the surface through the Occupy Wall Street movement, now headed into its second month. 

    Even in the internet age, the dynamism of ordinary individuals physically occupying the town squares in New York, Boston, Phoenix, Sacramento, and many other places – with their feet, sleeping bags, anger and hope – excites our imaginations and taps a deep desire to make the experience of democracy once again something that is authentic and human-scaled.

    There’s a lot of talk about what the occupiers “want.” Setting aside the question of whether issuing demands is something the occupiers want or should want, it is pretty clear that at least one theme is on the minds of the folks in our city squares. On cardboard boxes, sandwich placards, t-shirts and even on their own skin, people are expressing outrage about the corrosive effect of big money in politics, particularly in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. FEC.

    This outrage is well founded –  in a report Public Citizen published one year after the Court’s disastrous decision – we found that spending by outside groups jumped to nearly $300 million in the 2010 election cycle, from just $68.9 million in 2006.  The donors for nearly half of this independent money spent remain undisclosed. And, that’s just a taste of what’s to come.  The influx of independent expenditures in allowed by Citizens United will bump up election campaign spending to record levels in 2012; by some account to as much as $8 billion, dwarfing previous records.

  • July 12, 2011
    Video Interview

    The Supreme Court continues to limit the ability of people to seek justice in the courts, Public Citizen’s Allison Zieve tells ACSblog. Zieve cited as an example, the high court’s April opinion in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, which found in favor of AT&T’s effort to bar consumers from joining in a class action to challenge the wireless company’s charges.

    In an interview following ACS’s 2010 – 2011 Supreme Court Term Review, Zieve, litigation director for Public Citizen, said:

    It seems to me that the court is consistently unsympathetic to class action suits, to broader suits and has a distinct anti-litigation trend in a lot of its cases. The Court doesn’t seem to feel that state law claims, tort claims, consumer protection claims, have a lot of value, and so not only do plaintiffs frequently lose in those cases, they do so through opinions that don’t really show much respect for the civil justice system. So, I think that raises a significant concern about people’s ongoing access to the courts, access to court remedies. There’s a lot of situations in which state law provides the only remedy, and the Supreme Court has been cutting those access to the court system off through a very sympathetic view of arbitration, a broad reading of the federal arbitration act, through preemption, standing requirements that have been made more and more stringent over the years; so there’s a lot of ways the courthouse doors are being closed to just regular people.

    For more analysis and information about corporate interests before the Supreme Court and other federal courts, visit a the ACS Web Page, Corporations and the Courts, with resources that include two ACS Issue Briefs, “Why Does Business (Usually) Win in the Roberts Court?,” “Judicial Hostility to Litigation and How it Impairs Accountability for Corporations and Other Defendants,” and a recent article from the official ACS Journal, the Harvard Law & Policy Review, called “Class Action at the Crossroads: An Answer to Wal-Mart v. Dukes.”

    Watch Zieve’s interview below or download a video podcast of the interview. The interview can also be seen here.

  • August 24, 2010
    Guest Post

    By F. Paul Bland, Jr., senior attorney at Public Justice.
    The consumer and civil rights communities are closely watching AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, a case that will be argued in the Supreme Court this November. The case could decide the fate of most consumer and employee class actions for years to come.

    The Concepcion case involves the widespread corporate practice of using standard-form contract terms that purport to prevent consumers and employees from ever participating in class proceedings. Consumers and employees rarely have time to read the lengthy agreements companies send them, let alone the ability to understand their dense legalese. And even if they did, few consumers or employees could negotiate the contracts' terms.

    Many federal and state courts have held such class-action bans unenforceable under state laws providing that contract terms that block individuals from enforcing their rights under consumer protection and civil rights laws. Hoping to sweep aside many of those cases, AT&T Mobility ("ATTM") has asked the Supreme Court to find that at least some of that state law is preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA").

    Class-action bans dramatically undermine enforcement of consumer- and employee-protection laws. In many circumstances, very few individuals would ever bring a claim (in court, or in a small claims court, or in arbitration) even when those laws are broken. Many people never realize when their rights are violated, for example, and many people do not have the knowledge or skills to begin to pursue a case to protect their rights. For those who know to seek out a lawyer, very few lawyers will handle cases that are quite small, and few if any lawyers will handle fairly complex cases that involve only a few thousand dollars. There are many situations where a case will either be handled on a class action basis or it will never be brought at all.

    In the worst case scenario, Concepcion could wipe away the vast majority of consumer and employee class actions for years to come. But that result is far from inevitable. For one thing, ATTM submitted a narrow question in its petition for certiorari, and if the Court sticks to the question presented (as it should), then the decision should be limited. On the merits, if the Court agrees with the vast majority of lower courts, then the decision will change little. If the Court uses this case to grant the fondest wishes of some corporate lawyers for immunity, however, then this case could have the kind of impact on class actions that an asteroid landing in Mexico millions of years ago had on dinosaurs.