ICYMI: Feingold sets the record straight on Citizens United

Former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold wrote a letter to the New York Times Magazine in response to what he calls an “absurd” piece on the Citizens United decision that Feingold says misses the biggest problem stemming from that disastrous decision: a new form of corruption in our democracy.

Here’s Feingold’s letter:

Matt Bai misrepresents the most fundamental consequence of the Citizens United ruling: that it’s a new system of corruption. For the first time in more than 100 years, corporations can now legally spend unlimited funds directly from their treasuries to influence elections.

The vehicles for this corruption are super PACs and their companion organizations: 501(c)(4) nonprofit corporations, or so-called social-welfare groups. These groups are now capable of accepting unlimited corporate funds and running napalm-negative television ads that advocate against the election of specific candidates, often without a scrap of disclosure. A new analysis from the Center for Public Integrity shows that companies, including some Fortune 500 corporations, have already given nearly $24 million to conservative super PACs this cycle. This is a result of Citizens United. Because of new Republican objections to disclosure laws (legislation they supported in the 1990s), we will most likely never know which corporations are participating. The article also neglects another mechanism for laundering corporate money: the Chamber of Commerce, which many predict will spend well north of $50 million dollars on this year’s election, all from corporations. And while elected officials and members of a president’s administration are legally restricted to soliciting a maximum of $5,000 for super PACs and 501(c)(4)s, they are free to attend lavish fund-raisers for these groups, which are often run by their own former staff members and strategists.

Observers of our campaign-finance system often gloss over the fundamental concerns of corruption and instead focus only on the partisan political ramifications, but the corruption is very real. McCain-Feingold still bans political parties from accepting unlimited contributions from corporate donors. One door to corruption was closed. Now Citizens United opened a new one, creating a nexus for corruption by allowing corporations to spend directly from their treasuries to influence elections. It must be overturned.


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7 thoughts on “ICYMI: Feingold sets the record straight on Citizens United

  1. Gee–if Russ Feingold had not voted to confirm John Roberts to the US Supreme Court we would not have Citizens United. Russ wants to be a member of the US Supreme Court

  2. You give us the perfect object-lesson, Nomis. Never vote for any Right Wing Conservative for any position, ever; lest those Right Wing officials legally unravel the very structure of our Democratic Republic, replacing it with an oligarchical plutocracy.

    1. The result in Citizens United is primarily owed to bad lawyering on the part of the solicitor general. At oral arguments, he responded in the affirmative to a hypothetical question regarding whether the Government could ban books that advocated for or against a particular candidate. The Supreme Court is very free speech friendly (See Westboro Baptist Church) and this case then became framed as a freedom of speech case. But for this mistake, Citizens United would have been ruled on very narrow grounds instead of striking the entire law.


  3. The national Move To Amend organization has over 100,000 members around the nation seeking a constitutional amendment that seeks to reestablish that money is not speech and only human beings, not the corporations they create, are intitled to inherent inalienable rights, so that corporations may be regulated in the political sphere. Referendums have appeard on several local elections, many, like the one in Milwaukee have passed, supporting the amendment. See MoveToAmend.org. It’s gained huge momentum since 2009 without a shred of media support. For more info in Wisconsin email The Chippewa Valley Move to Amend at CVMTA@movetoamend.org.

  4. I agree with Russ, wholeheartedly. Scalia said that as corporations are somehow considered “people,” and that spending money is considered an expression of the 1st Amendment, the floodgates of corporate money could be opened, if there was transparency and money flows were public knowledge. The transparency and public knowledge part hasn’t been followed at all.
    Look at the video of Scott Walker talking to his wealthy Beloit donor, who wants right to work legislation, and talk of “helping” them. Is that money for access and legislation? What is the “help” each talks about? I’ll help you if you help me. If you give me money I’ll use my public office to arrange things to your liking.
    Our elected officials are supposed to legislate laws for the general populace, not private interests. Is bribery supposed to be considered non-corrupt? What things are said publicly are a lot different than what’s said behind closed doors. What’s said behind closed doors in making public laws must be brought out into the open.

    1. “Scalia said that as corporations are somehow considered “people,” ” Scalia is right. That’s been the law since 1819.

      Dartmouth College v. Woodward, (1819) (holding corporations have the same right to contract as natural citizens); And numerous decisions have affirmed corporate rights. See Pembina Consolidated Silver Mining Co. v. Pennsylvania, (1888) (“Under the designation of “person” there is no doubt that a private corporation is included [in the Fourteenth Amendment]. Such corporations are merely associations of individuals united for a special purpose and permitted to do business under a particular name and have a succession of members without dissolution.”); First Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, (1978) (holding corporations have a first amendment right to make political donations to influence political process).

      You mention right to work legislation. The Federal law that was held to be unconstitutional, 2 U. S. C. §441b, applied to both corporations and Unions. You’ll find it interesting that the Unions in Indiana are challenging similar legislation on the basis that it violates their freedom of speech. In a sense of irony, their advertisements against the legislation (not to mention the Unions’ Scott Walker Attack ads) would have been illegal if Citizens United had been decided in the alternative.

  5. Well, at least we now know your take on Citizens United and right to work. Wasn’t this discussion about Russ Feingold’s view that the element of corruption has has entered into the picture as a result of Citizens United, and that the money is non-transparent? Are you okay with that? Quite often these corporate “persons” have a lot more money at their disposal to spend on these outfits, a lot more money than what an ordinary person could spend. I think that’s lousy, and I’m grateful for Russ opening up the discussion on something that clearly needs reform.

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