Sunlight Weekly Roundup: “…money is not free speech…”


To highlight the anniversary of January 2010’s Citizens United decision, all of this month’s weekly roundups will  take a look at what local bloggers across the country are saying about the ruling. First up, bloggers who represent the primary states:

  • Iowa Senator Tom Harkin is pushing for a bill that would limit the amount of money corporations can contribute to a political campaign. He maintains that “This bill that we are pushing would amend the Constitution to basically say that money is not speech.” While she sees the proposed bill  as a step in the right direction, Lydia Waddington of the Iowa Independent has her doubts,pointing out that “in a Congress that has been loathe to pass meaningful legislation, the idea that any joint resolution to amend the Constitution could gain enough bipartisan traction to reach the two-thirds majority it needs in both chambers is, to be blunt, laughable — something Harkin and the bill’s other 14 supporters openly recognize.” Harkin agrees that the bill’s passing is unlikely, but maintains, “I think as we go into the campaign next year, and as people see more and more of these distorted ads, which the candidates have no control over — you are going to see all of these devastating ads on candidates and where they stand and all of that, paid for by some bogus group. And the Supreme Court has given them a shield so that they don’t even have to say where [the money] comes from.” Marybeth Gardam, Iowa organizer for a grassroots organization Move to Amend feels that the bill falls short, saying, “This [proposal] addresses the ‘money is not speech’ piece of it, but it does not address the ‘corporation is not a person’ piece of it. And as long as they have that right — which they got very illegitimately in the 1880s — they will be able to use that power against ‘we the people.”
  • David Shlutz post on emphasizes the changes Citizens United ruling brings to state and local political campaigns in Minnesota. He maintains that, “Besides making it possible for corporations to make unlimited express advocacy expenditures in races for governor, the other constitutional offices, and the state Legislature, they will be free to do the same for local races such as city council and mayoral races. Citizens United also enable corporate express advocacy in judicial elections. He suggests a number of policy decisions to ensure that laws are being properly followed, for instance, Minnesota could mandate that any corporate expenditure must be disclosed at the time it is made.
  • In their continued protests against Citizens United, Occupy Orlando took their message to Florida senator Gary Siplin’s office “to present a formal letter asking for his support to amend our Constitution to firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.” The Occupy Orlando action is being launched in conjunction with the national Move to Amend campaign, that seeks to “end the illegitimate legal doctrines that prevent the American people from governing ourselves.” Move to Amend maintains that the Citizens United ruling granted corporations the same rights as natural persons, “entitled by the U.S. Constitution to buy elections and run our government.” For the whole story, read Virginia Chamlee’s post on The American Independent.
  • In Iowa, a forthcoming Surpreme Court decision will soon clarify the Citizens United ruling and how it might be interpreted. In September of 2010, Iowa Right to Life filed a complaint in the Southern District of Iowa challenging the constitutionality of Iowa campaign-finance laws maintaining  that Iowa’s new laws–which were enacted in the wake of Citizens United–are still too burdensome for organizations making independent expenditures who are not registered as political action committees. Iowa Right to Life argued that Iowa’s new rules impose PAC-like obligations on all organizations making independent expenditures of more than $750, and that these rules violate the First Amendment.  The State argued that the rules do no such thing, and thus there is no constitutional problem.  Chief Judge Pratt agreed with the State, but concluded that he is “generally without authority to construe or narrow state statutes.” For more information and an update on the forthcoming ruling, see Ryan Koopmans’ post on On Brief.

Connect with other transparency bloggers in this Transparency Bloggers Google group   and see what others are doing in the transparency movement by joining this Citizens for Open Government Google Group.