The Supreme Court and Corporate Electioneering

The Supreme Court decision which will allow unfettered campaign contributions from corporations and unions poses a threat to the very workings of our democracy.

To equate a corporation with a person is a travesty of justice. The voice of the individual voter will be drowned out by the cacophony of corporate voices which will be free to spend unlimited funds to blast their messages by every possible means of communication. Unions will have the same right, but clearly, they have but a small fraction of resources compared to corporations.

It is ironic that the so-called conservative majority on the court made the most radical decision possible, overturning a century of precedent, nullifying election laws of many states, and laws passed by Congress, including McCain-Feingold.

The Court reversed its own position, taken as recently as 2003 when it upheld a ban on "soft money."

This is the same legal faction that grilled Justice Sonia Sotomayor to make certain that she would not dare to make new law, but would relegate herself to interpreting existing law. This court adheres to this judicial philosophy only when it suits its own purposes. In Citizens United, it purported to defend Freedom of Speech, something we all venerate in the Constitution. To assume that when the founding fathers upheld freedom of speech, they meant to defend the power of corporations to spend unlimited funds on campaigns is more than a stretch--it is outlandish. In their wildest dreams they could not have imagined the wealth of 21st century corporate America and its potential impact on elections.

Justice Stevens, who wrote an impassioned minority opinion, got it right. He wrote: "At bottom, the Court's opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding, and have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt."

He concluded: "While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics."

What can we do to curb the power of special interest money in politics? Demand that Congress restore equilibrium between money and politics and respect the voice of the individual voter by enacting a law that enables public financing of federal elections.


Madeleine M. Kunin is the former Governor of Vermont and was the state's first woman governor. She served as Ambassador to Switzerland for President Clinton, and was on the three-person panel that chose Al Gore to be Clinton's VP. She is the author of Pearls, Politics, and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead from Chelsea Green Publishing.