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The fifth anniversary of Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision

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The Constitutional limits of campaign finance laws involving contributions to candidates and political parties were defined by the 2010 Citizens United decision. (Olivier Douliery | Tribune News Service)

The Constitutional limits of campaign finance laws involving contributions to candidates and political parties were defined by the 2010 Citizens United decision. (Olivier Douliery | Tribune News Service)

This month marks five years since the Supreme Court’s controversial decision regarding Citizens United. The United States Supreme Court held that the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by a nonprofit corporation.

The Court did, according to a January 2010 article from the National Journal, uphold requirements for public disclosure by sponsors of advertisements. The Citizens United case did not involve the federal ban on direct contributions from corporations or unions to campaigns or political parties, which remain illegal in races for federal office.

What the Citizens United ruling did authorize, however, was the essentially unlimited use of money by special interest groups, be they political action committees (PACs) or unions. This has created an environment where entities outside of the campaigns can heavily influence elections.

It’s a solid argument, with money being viewed as freedom of expression and thus an essential part of the First Amendment. However, it did not win over all of the Supreme Court.

“I think the notion that we have all the democracy that money can buy strays so far from what our democracy is supposed to be,” dissenting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said. “I think members of the legislature, people who have to run for office, know the connection between money and influence on what laws get passed.”   

Justice John Paul Stevens, the author of the Court’s official dissenting opinion, wrote that “a democracy cannot function effectively when its constituent members believe laws are being bought and sold.”

Although Stevens and Ginsburg make valid policy critiques, the core points they are making need a constitutional amendment for them to receive widespread legal support and justification. I agree with what they are saying, but I am also agreeing with the Court’s majority when I say that under current constitutional law, money should be treated like speech.

We must ask the question, at what point does one’s right to use money in any way or amount they wish start to impact others? Another way of phrasing this might be, does your right to use money any way you wish impact “a more perfect Union?”

Does it impact “justice?” Does money “insure domestic tranquility?” Do money and corporations “promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity?”

Above all, do corporations, and the unlimited use of monetary funds, “ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America?”

No. “We the people” established the Constitution. If “we the people” believe money is not speech and that corporations are not people, then so be it. I gather this conclusion by, yes, quoting the Preamble to the United States Constitution, the ultimate law of the land.

Let’s support a constitutional amendment regulating the use of money, keeping in mind that a majority of Congress already supports regulating PACs in some way, shape or form. For those against this idea, “we the people” have spoken, and you apparently did not hear.

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The fifth anniversary of Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision