One of the worst decisions ever made by the Supreme Court of the United States was the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, decided by a 5-4 vote, mainly along partisan lines. Members of the Supreme Court appointed by Republicans, who have decried for years activists judges who choose to legislate from the bench, are responsible not only for this bad decision, but for the decision subverting the electoral process in the state of Florida and installing George W. Bush as president.
Citizens United, in case you’ve been living under a rock somewhere and never watch the evening news, is the case that declared that laws prohibiting rich corporations from spending corporate money on elections were an unreasonable restraint on freedom of speech. Advocates of this horrible decision, such as former Gov. Mitt Romney, declare that corporations are people and as such should enjoy the same right of free speech as any American citizen.
Corporations can’t be sentenced to jail. They cannot be drafted into military service, and they can be citizens of multiple countries concurrently. Corporations are not democratic organizations having the benefit of one man, one vote; rather, they are controlled by the vote of shareholders whose voting strength is strictly determined by the amount of money put into the corporation by the would-be voters. Decisions are made by a board of directors, and now, because of the Citizens United ruling, the board can spend other people’s money on the campaigns of political candidates without the approval of the persons who furnished the money. The same prohibition has for years and years applied to unions. It was felt unions should not be able to spend the dues of their members to elect candidates that some of the dues-paying members did not necessarily favor. Citizens United has stood this concept on its head.
We are seeing the results of allowing unlimited corporate investment in political elections most recently in the Republican Primary. Super pacs furnished more than $300 million just in the intermural fight between Republican candidates for presidents. The $300 million spent in the primary election, in my opinion, will be only a small preview of the spending orgy to come in the general election for the leader of this nation.
Americans value the right of free speech so much that they generally has bought into the concept promoted by the news media that the people have a right to know, and it should be exercised without restraint. Court decisions regularly allow the slander of persons having any public notoriety whatsoever on the theory that to do otherwise would have a chilling effect on the media’s efforts to keep the public informed.
I have long taken a somewhat different view in that I have trouble finding anywhere in the Constitution of the United States or of the state of Texas that declares the people have the right to know anything. I firmly believe that the people have a need to know.
Certainly, people need to know essential facts about what’s going on in government. I also believe we should be zealous in protecting free speech, but I strongly disagree that any great effort should be made to constitutionally protect lies. What Citizens United has done is grant to the very rich, such as the Koch brothers, the ability to spend millions of dollars on slander, almost – if not completely – anonymously. Recently, more than $59 million spent on elections has been traced to a remote post office box in Arizona. It is highly suspected that it is funded by the Koch brothers who are estimated to be worth $50 billion. There are countless documented instances of phony 501(c)3 so-called nonprofit organizations that are mysteriously funded, and those participating in those so-called nonprofits deny knowledge of where the money comes from.
If you believe elections cannot be bought, you obviously did not follow the recent election between James White and Tuffy Hamilton in the Southeast Texas area. Tuffy Hamilton was a longtime member of the Legislature, a committee chair with a record of achievement to point to. James White was a freshman whose record was virtually devoid of any major accomplishments as a member of the Texas House of Representatives. Tuffy was swamped with TV ads to the extent they were almost nauseating. Television ads are expensive, and yet James White’s campaign would run sometimes three expensive ads back to back, one after the other, in prime time in the evenings. The results were devastating for the voters of Southeast Texas as well as for Tuffy Hamilton.
Texas has a fairly decent system of accountability in funding elections, at least for the candidates themselves. A candidate is obligated to register campaign contributions, both received and spent, with the Ethics Commission. Citizens, as a result, have the opportunity, as well as the right, to check and see from whence the money came to promote a particular candidate. Unfortunately, with Citizens United, it is no longer possible to hold a candidate accountable for massive amounts of money pumped in from even outside one’s district in an election.
I would prefer a constitutional amendment be adopted which would put us back to square one and prohibit unlimited corporate or union contributions. It would be a great improvement, in the meantime, if we would simply require that corporations give money to the candidate. Require the candidate to report it so the voting public could have a better idea of who owns each candidate or to whom each candidate is indebted. It is difficult, if not impossible, for discerning voters to make an intelligent choice between candidates not knowing which candidate might have received a couple of million dollars from a special interest whose interest is contrary to the average voter.
Carl Parker has practiced law in Port Arthur since 1958. He is a 1958 graduate of the University of Texas School of Law. Elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1962 and the Senate in 1976, Parker continued to practice law while writing and sponsoring hundreds of bills that became laws relating to every aspect of life in Texas, including many regarding consumer safety. His e-mail is cap1934 [at] aol [dot] com.