Protecting Democracy in the Wake of Citizens United

Nothing less than the integrity of our democracy is at stake.

That's why New York is leading a bipartisan coalition of twenty-two states and the District of Columbia in urging the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold state restrictions on corporate campaign spending in the wake of Citizens United, the 2010 decision that prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations in federal elections. Click here to show your support and stand with us.

The current case is called American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock, and by applying the Citizens United framework to state and local campaigns, the Court could determine whether voters will have a meaningful voice in many of the elections that matter most in their lives.

The results could be disastrous.

For more than a century, states have sought to protect the integrity of the democratic process at the state and local level by regulating corporate spending in elections. Now this challenge to Montana's campaign finance law seeks to overturn state restrictions on corporate money without even giving the state, or other states that would be affected, the benefit of a full hearing.

I am leading the states' effort to uphold the Montana law. Why? Because if the law is struck down, we can expect a shock and awe campaign of corporate funded ads in state and local elections all across the country. If you agree, click here to show your support and stand with us.

In Citizens United v. FEC, the Supreme Court ruled that sections of the federal campaign finance law known as McCain-Feingold imposed unconstitutional restrictions on the First Amendment rights of corporations.

The result of that ruling has been a super PAC arms race in federal elections of which we are only beginning to understand the implications.

It is bad enough at the federal level, but the impact at the state and local level could be even worse. The political system will be awash in corporate money. To put it in perspective, Exxon Mobil and JPMorgan Chase each made more in profits in the first quarter of 2012 alone than the entire state budget of Montana. Without a doubt, multinational corporations like these have the resources to overwhelm the voices of the people.

State campaign finance laws differ from the federal law that was struck down in Citizens United because they apply to a much wider range of offices -- including judge, sheriff, and county prosecutor -- that were not considered by the Court in the earlier case. For judicial and law enforcement positions, it is particularly important to avoid any appearance of bias, special access, or influence.

While our coalition believes that the Montana law can be upheld without reconsidering Citizens United, we also believe this case can be more than a defensive battle. That's why we have respectfully urged the Supreme Court, either in this case or in a future case, to reconsider its ruling in Citizens United. The Court held that unlimited corporate spending does not create a risk of corruption or the appearance of corruption. But it would be tough to find many voters, or even candidates, who really believe that. Now that we've seen the impact of unlimited corporate spending in practice, it would be a welcome move by the Court to take a more realistic view of the impact of money in politics.

But whether the Supreme Court chooses to revisit Citizens United now or not, the Court should not strike down a duly enacted state law without even calling for full briefing and oral argument.

The Court should decline to hear the case, and allow lower courts to continuing working out the question of how Citizens United applies to state and local campaign finance laws. Or, if the Court intends to consider the case, it should allow a full briefing and oral arguments, including by states like New York, and the 21 states that joined us in this effort, that would also be affected by a ruling in this case. Our elected representatives wisely enacted laws to protect our state and local governments from undue, outside influence. Click here to show your support and stand with me because we deserve the opportunity to defend those laws -- and our democracy.