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Time for Legislature to push back against Citizens United decision

The people of New Hampshire have seen how the U.S. Supreme Court’s horrendous Citizens United v. FEC decision – the case that declared corporations have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited sums to influence elections – is incompatible with the principles of our democracy.

New Hampshire prides itself on being informed, independent and free to make its own choices. Unfortunately, such high standards for democracy are being increasingly challenged by the flow of outside money into elections from outside groups, a phenomenon that took off after Citizens United. For example, during the 2012 gubernatorial race, these outside groups outspent the candidates themselves by almost five times. That’s in addition to more than $1 billion spent by outside groups to influence federal elections and generally narrow the scope of debate on issues important to the state.

To push back against this assault, last year Barnstead, Bradford and Nottingham passed resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, and several other New Hampshire cities are working toward doing the same. It’s time for the state’s political leaders to follow the people’s example.

Soon the New Hampshire Legislature will consider two bills that would combat the caustic influence of big money on our democracy. First, House Concurrent Resolution 2 would urge Congress to begin the process for a constitutional amendment establishing that human beings, not corporations, are entitled to constitutional rights. Second, House Resolution 7 would urge Congress to pass an amendment to allow for overall limits on campaign spending. It is essential that New Hampshire join 11 other states that have already called for an amendment to reclaim our democracy.

This fight is not just about the fact that Citizens United has opened the floodgates on corporate spending in American politics. It’s not just about the fact that unlimited money is being funneled through independent organizations that do not need to report their sources. It’s not just about the fact that independent organizations – like Karl Rove’s Crossroads groups, or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the trade association for Big Business, or the super-PACs supporting different political candidates – run vicious attack ads without any accountability. It’s not just that many of these groups serve as conduits for hundreds of millions in secret money. It’s not just about the fact that, by relying on funding from a tiny a group of corporations and super-rich people, these groups are dominating the electoral process.

We need an amendment for all these reasons. But even more important, an amendment is needed so we can reestablish the principles of American democracy. Overturning Citizens United means fighting for the basic tenet of popular sovereignty: It is the people who rule. Constitutional protections exist to protect living, breathing human beings – not artificial entities.

As severe as is the damage done by Citizens United, it also presents an opportunity. The decision has galvanized a national movement to reclaim our democracy. In towns across the state, the people of New Hampshire are establishing themselves as leaders in this fight. It’s now time the Legislature listen and pass these important resolutions.

(State Rep. Mary Cooney is a Democrat from Plymouth. Robert Weissman is president of Public Citizen, the consumer advocacy nonprofit group.)

Legacy Comments14

Translation: Union money, laundered by Democrats, good ole boy network politics. George Soro's undermining our Republic, groups like ACORN supporting the theft of elections, voter fraud, support for amnesty for illegals so that they will support Democrats, bully like tactics passing things through Congress against the will of the people (Obamacare), an arrogant President whose ideology stands against the Constitution are evidently OK with these two reps. However, business, the engine of our economy and the millions of people business represents and employs (sans union thugs in charge) are so evil? Think again!

Your claims of voter fraud are unsupported by the facts--which do support ample evidence of efforts by Republicans at voter suppression. Your claim regarding ACORN is also untrue--but that never stops you from repeating it. Union money does go overwhelmingly to Democratic causes, but that money is swamped by corporate giving to the other side. Public financing of elections and campaign spending limits are the answer. George Soros undermining our republic? Any factual evidence to support that charge? The Koch brothers are doing much to undermine our democratic institutions with their secretive actions and financing intended to benefit their business interests, while Soros' highly public efforts have been aimed at promoting democracy in the former Soviet bloc, and promoting public interest measures here. The SCOTUS ruled ACA constitutional, and Obama won a 2nd term, meaning most Americans favor a stronger social safety net, and spending to create jobs and restore the economy--not austerity measures (see Europe for how that's working out). Your revisionist take on the facts is neither sound history nor sound economics. Nor is it in the best interests of the nation. What you describe is little more than the Confederacy redux, and would create a feudal oligarchy. You treat the Constitution and the government as if we were living under the Articles of Confederation--which the Founders rejected in favor of a strong central government. That government has been under attack by the right for 30 years now, and the results are in--the rich have gotten richer by gaming the system, the middle class has shrunk, corporations have outsourced jobs to low wage nations. Once, Americans had good jobs at good wages that enabled them to buy American-made goods at fair prices; now low-wage, non-union service sector jobs require many Americans to work 2 jobs to afford cheap goods made in China by workers in often deplorable conditions. Who would have thought it all possible 40 years ago?

I think it's easy for all of us to understand that because it costs so much money to get elected today, politicians are spending half their time dialing-for-dollars instead of legislating. Many of them have come out and said how much they hate that part of their job. It's demeaning. A democracy is supposed to operate on the premise that each of us has one vote of equal value. Since when are corporations people? A corporation's primary objective is to increase profit. They would not be spending money on politics if that didn't help them achieve that objective. Getting big money out of politics is so important. But it's going to be very difficult. Lobbying groups will fight very very hard to NOT make it happen. The current system is working for them. It's getting them access to politicians who in turn reward them with favorable laws. Because NH's legislature is more "grass roots" I think we have a chance at changing things here.

"A corporation's primary objective is to increase profit." - INCORRECT ! ...the 1st thing one learns in Business School is that the sole job of a business is to perpetuate itself......ask Hostess Twinkies how that worked out for them..........fighting legislation and legislators that will lead to their demise is a legitimate focus - needless to say that effort always seems to be the really bad laws the democrats and Obama always propose.

This is old settled law going way back to the 1886 Supreme Court decision in the Santa Clara case

I agree with your premise. That said, all you say about the Koch brothers (and I do not disagree) - also applies to Geo. Soros and all the rich on the left and politically protected Hollywood. Want to clean it up Fine - I agree but if memory serves - there are numerically more of the affluent coming from the left.

There is and never has been a left of center equivalent to ALEC, a nationally coordinated, centrally financed extreme (and I use that word knowing how controversial it is) right wing group whose agenda is nothing more or less than the state-by-state dismantling of the social safety net, workers' rights and public education. It's as if the John Birch Society awoke one morning with a bottomless bank account and an impossible degree of respectability. Neither is there a left of center equivalent to the Tea Party which is, despite occasional local outbursts, well funded (from mostly concealed sources) and centrally directed. The only near-comparison on the left is the Occupy movement which really is grass roots and has no recognizable national organization. It's comforting to think, "Both sides do it"; but it's also comforting to believe in the tooth fairy.

Nice post. I agree with you. For more than 3 decades ideologues of the right and their financial backers have been waging a philosophical and economic battle to undo many if not all the social reforms put in place since the New Deal. They use the mantra of 'privatization' and their bankrolled 'studies' from Mercatus and Cato to support their claims. All this has happened while progressives were napping--assuming that the lessons learned from the Great Depression were sufficient to prevent a repeat. Alas, 30 years of misguided libertarian nostrums--starting in the Carter years and helped along significantly during the Clinton era, have resulted in 3 financial failures in the past 15 years--each more severe than the last. And we don't seem to have learned much yet from the most recent--otherwise the intransigent House Republicans would have been scorned and shamed into submission by the public and their own electorate. But such is the power of the far-right to hold in thrall the gullible and the poorly-informed with their dis-information and fairy tales after 3 decades.

All the progressive talking heads on TV must have been "napping", on drugs, or children during the 1980s, because they don't talk about how the debt snowball started rolling under Reagan. Rachel Maddow, Howard Dean, Ezra Klein, etc. like to compare the Bush tax rates to the Clinton rates, as if the problem started under Bush., and as if the Clinton rates would be sufficient to solve the problem. The top bracket rate under Clinton was only 1/2 of the 50 year average 79% rate prior to Reagan. And, due to all the borrowing under Reagan to pay for the tax cut and spending increases, average yearly interest expense under Clinton was 4 times what it had cost when Reagan took office. These 2 factors explain why the debt actually increased by 36% under Clinton, on top of the 349% total increase under the Reagan and GHWB administrations, even as Clinton had a booming economy with the rapid expansion of the internet. All too often I hear about Clinton's "surplus" - the debt increased in every year under Clinton, with the exception of his very last year in office. The top rate is way too low and very few understand the simple math problem. Meanwhile no-clue Republican politicians pledge allegiance to Norquist and spend most of their time counting their Koch money while progressive talking heads seem to be afraid to criticize or explain Reagan's big trickle down mistake.

Let's compare which billionaires are serious about fixing the tax cut/debt problem: Buffet net worth $50 billion: says "Stop coddling the rich", pays lower tax rate than his secretary. Soros' net worth $19B: "In an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, the billionaire investor George Soros said that he thought he should be paying more in taxes and took aim at Republicans who are trying to stop the “Buffett Rule” from becoming law" Koch brother's net worth $31 billion each: Back the GOP obstructionism on tax increases for the rich, funnel hundreds of $millions to various Conservative groups and GOP super pacs, likely a fraction of their Reagan/Bush tax cuts. Addelson net worth $25 billion: $70 million to Republicans in 2012. What other billionaires should we compare?

Talk is cheap. They can pay what they feel that they really owe at any time. Just include the extra with their returns. If you feel you can spare some extra taxes, please add that extra to your return. Thanks a lot!

I think "super-rich people"...., like the Koch brothers,...."are dominating the electoral process" in order to protect or increase their own tax cut advantage. The Koch brother's combined net worth is now about $62 billion, up by $18 billion from $44 billion in 2010, a 40% increase over the last 2 years. So what is their Reagan tax cut worth to them, put in place with the help of William Niskanen, Reagan's trickle down economic advisor and former Koch associate? Let's assume that the Koch's recent 40% wealth gain was extraordinary, and apply only a 10%/yr ordinary income to their $62 billion net worth, which would result in $6.2B of taxable income at the 2013 39.6% rate. Their tax payment would be $2.5B. At the pre-Reagan 69.125% tax rate their tax payment on the same $6.2B ordinary income would have been $4.2B. So their tax advantage now, compared to pre-Reagan, could be the difference between $4.2B and $2.5B, or $1.7B each year, or $3.4B every 2 year election cycle. Funnelling a few hundred $million through all sorts of GOP supportive groups (NRA, AFP, ALEC, Tea Party, etc., etc.) every 2 years could be a wise business decision to protect $3.4B in GOP tax cut income. Now imagine what Romney's 20% across the board tax cut proposal would have done for the Koch brothers tax advantage. Also imagine that the Reagan tax cut had not occurred and that the US had no $16T debt caused by Republican tax cuts, spending increases, and finance charges over the last 3 decades.

Great post--as ever!

This is the most important article in the paper today and not one comment yet. Getting big money out of elections is the single best thing we can do for our country.

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