As many of you already know, Citizens United is the 2010 Supreme Court decision that makes it legal for corporations and private citizens to donate money to political action committees — so-called super PACs — without limits. (Citizens Guide to Citizens United via iWatch News)
As of yesterday, spending on the 2012 presidential election has surpassed $66 million (super PAC spending making up about half of that), and has already topped the total amount that super PACs spent in all of 2010 on the midterm elections ($65 million). Some are predicting that this year’s election may cost super PACs and campaigns as much as $10 billion. (2008 election spending was nearly $7 billion.)
Truthout reports that more than 67 percent of Americans oppose Citizens United and one justice — Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who dissented in the case — has indicated in recent weeks that she may be willing to speak out more boldly against the decision.
There are a number of on-going campaigns spearheaded by national organizations and local grassroots community groups frustrated by Congress’ intransigence on the issue. They are taking action to amend the Constitution, bring transparency to the 2012 election campaigns and asking the Justice Department to investigate campaign finance corruption.
Amend 2012 and Move to Amend
The local ballot referendum that passed by a three-to-one margin in Missoula, MT, last November was part of a grass-roots campaign urging Congress to amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United. In some states, citizens can gather signatures to place an initiative on the ballot calling on Congress to take action on an issue — in this case, to pass a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United. The proposed amendment would establish two principles: (1) unlimited spending on politics is not free speech, and (2) corporations do not have the same constitutional rights as real people. The Amend 2012 website includes a downloadable toolkit with petititions, stickers, sample legislation and social media strategies for getting a campaign started in your city or state. And their work is gaining ground: Move to Amend has started a map that keeps track of resolutions and ordinances that have already been passed on college campuses, unions, municipalities and states.
Now in its seventh year, Sunshine Week is a national initiative launched by the American Society of News Editors to promote awareness about the importance of open government, freedom of information and the public’s general right to know what our government is doing, and why. You can learn about events happening around the country next week on the Sunshine Week calendar. Several organizations have partnered with ASNE on Sunshine Week including the Sunlight Foundation, who support the DISCLOSE legislation has recently been introduced in the House. The law would put in place reporting requirements for unions, super PACs, corporations and nonprofit organizations that decide to spend money on political campaigns. It would also require transparency about money transfers made from one group to another — usually between local and national PACs — which some have likened to money laundering. Learn more about the DISCLOSE 2012 Act in this recent interview that Stephen Colbert did with Rep. Nancy Pelosi:
Although the bill has been introduced in the House, it hasn’t yet been reintroduced in the Senate. Over 87,000 people have signed an online petition as “citizen co-sponsors” of the DISCLOSE Act.
One of the rules that is supposed to prevent corruption makes it illegal for unaffiliated super PACs to “coordinate” with the candidates’ official campaign committee. Quite a few of the super PACs are staffed by former colleagues or advisors of the candidates, including the Romney-supporting Restore Our Future and Obama supporting Priorities USA Action committees. Last month, Fred Wertheimer, the president of Democracy 21, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that supports campaign finance reform, wrote on CNN.com that he believes the claim that these organizations are “operating ‘independently’ from the presidential candidates, as is required by law, is absurd and has no credibility.” So he’s written several letters to the Justice Department, filing complaints about behavior that he believes is in violation of the law. Wertheimer says that he believes the DISCLOSE Act in the Senate is the number one thing for concerned citizens to get behind and hopes people will write to their representatives in favor of the legislation.
Are you doing anything in your community? Tell us how you are taking action in the comments section.