Citizens United Ruling Brings on “Tsunami of Sewer Money”

Guest Blogger: Elaine Magliaro

In the subtitle of his Salon article “The Predictable Tsunami of Sewer Money,” Joe Conason asks the following: “Was the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United naively mistaken–or cynically partisan?” Good question.

In January, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote: “With the advent of the Internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions. This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.”

Karl J. Sandstrom, a former FEC commissioner who provides advice to Democrats on election law has said: “The biggest change this year is that it is no longer possible to identify the individuals who are responsible for funding election communications.” Sandstrom believes that Justice Kennedy’s opinion was naïve and reflected a “very uninformed view of how disclosure works.”

Conason thinks Kennedy and the other conservative Justices on the Court never attempted “to inform themselves about the realities of donor disclosure before overturning the century-old restrictions on corporate cash.” He contends that the Justices could have easily discovered that under Section 501 c (4) of the IRS code nonprofit groups are permitted to register as “social welfare” organizations. This allows the groups to support “independent” campaign advertising without being required to disclose the names of donors—as long as political activity is not their “primary activity.”

Were Kennedy and the Justices who joined him in the majority wrong? David G. Savage thinks so. In a Los Angeles Times article, Savage writes the following:

“Because of loopholes in tax laws and a weak enforcement policy at the Federal Election Commission, corporations and wealthy donors have been able to spend huge sums on campaign ads, confident the public will not know who they are, election law experts say. Corporate donors have been able to hide their contributions despite the opposition of shareholders and customers—the very groups cited by Kennedy.”

Savage also points to the high court’s ruling as helping to fuel the rise of a number of nonprofit political actions groups—like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS.

Do you think The Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission was

a) naïvely mistaken

b) cynically partisan

c) neither of the above


Recommended Reading:

The Rise of Sewer Money by Joe Conason (The New York Observer, 10/27/2010)

Supreme Court Rules 5-4 Against Campaign Limitations in The Hillary The Movie Case (The Turley Blog, 1/21/2010)



Los Angeles Times

– Elaine Magliaro, Guest Blogger

16 thoughts on “Citizens United Ruling Brings on “Tsunami of Sewer Money”

  1. Good question? Is it? I can’t imagine the US Supreme Court “system” requires judges to think about the possible future consequences of their decisions rather than the pure application of the law.

    Having said that; the USofA is all over, dead broke and rapidly descending past the hedonism of other failed empires.

    Australia would welcome anyone left-of-centre should you wish to move here. You’d love it.

    Leave the rest of them to wallow in their Supreme Court created feculence.

  2. I think it was blatantly partisan in addition to being unconstitutionally ignorant of who works for whom under said Constitution. They had corporate charters in the days of the Founders and had they meant “We the Corporate” they’ve had said that instead of “We the People”. Giving a legal fiction the same or superior rights to natural individual citizens is stupid and simply asking for trouble. That’s why the Founding Fathers didn’t do it.

    Kennedy, Ailito, Scalia, Roberts and Thomas should all be impeached and while they may not face that punishment in their lifetime, I’m absolutely certain history will impeach their actions as simply selling out citizens to corporations and the turning point where America ceased to be a democracy and became a fascist dictatorship/kleptocracy.

    They, along with the Bush, Cheney and Obama, will go down in history as the villains that brought down the American Dream and turned it into the American Nightmare. They’ll be cited along with other great leaders throughout history like Nero, Caligula and Mussolini.

  3. BIL,

    The (psychopath) Corporation as a “natural person” decision could quite possibly be the most significant turning point of US history, even more so than the Civil War.

    Surely, what is being seen now is the entirely predictable outcome of that decision.

    I’d agree on your other points. Infamy awaits.

  4. You don’t get seated on the Supreme Court by being naive. The path there is as back stabbing and political as any other position of major power and influence – so of course it was partisan…but it was worse than just partisan, overall it was a call based on class privilege.

    The only thing I disagree with in the above posts is that the turning point for the US becoming an oligarchic kleptocracy happened long ago. The only thing has changed of late is the need for democratic pretense and that began with the Florida decision by the court in the 2000 vote.

  5. Culheath, “The only thing I disagree with in the above posts is that the turning point for the US becoming an oligarchic kleptocracy happened long ago.”

    Reagan. The Reagan Revolution really was a revolution and the little people lost.

  6. Buddha,

    Thanks for cutting to the heart of the matter in your wee-hours-of-the-morning comment.

    America is burning…

  7. The Washington Post (11/1/2010)
    In Wis., Feingold feels impact of court ruling
    By Robert Barnes

    RIVER FALLS, WIS. – Sometimes, it takes years to see the impact of a Supreme Court decision on American life, and sometimes a ruling lands with an explosion.

    The Roberts Court’s game-changing decisions on campaign finance reform have been both.

    Almost from the moment Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joined the bench five years ago, the court’s conservatives have acted systematically on their deep skepticism of campaign spending restrictions. They have repeatedly questioned the ability of Congress to regulate the role of wealth and special interest involvement in elections without offending the First Amendment guarantee of unfettered political speech.

    The court’s rulings are being felt this year everywhere voters go to the polls. But they have special resonance in Wisconsin, where Sen. Russ Feingold, the Democratic author of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act, has seen not only his legislative legacy but his Senate career endangered.

    “I’ve always been a target in this stuff,” Feingold said during a recent swing through the western part of his state. “And this year, I’m getting the full dose: over $2 million in these ads [criticizing him] that used to not be legal.”

    The court’s rulings on campaign finance have assured it the most prominent role in the country’s elections since its polarizing decision 10 years ago in Bush v. Gore. They also provide perhaps the most striking example of how the Roberts Court differs from its predecessor.

    In decision after decision, a slim majority of the court has cut back major parts of McCain-Feingold and other campaign-spending restrictions. The capstone came in January, with its 5 to 4 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that rewrote decades of law and said corporations and unions could spend unlimited amounts to support or oppose candidates.

    WSJ Law Blog
    One Man Feeling the Effects of ‘Citizens United’: Russ Feingold (11/2/2010)

    Is the Roberts Court responsible for Russ Feingold’s troubles?

    To a degree, yes, writes Barnes. According to the story, Johnson has invested more than $8 million of his money in the race, and although the two campaigns are competitive with each other financially, outside groups have spent nearly $3 million on Johnson’s behalf.

    A WaPo analysis shows 92 percent of the outside spending has supported the Republican. The impact has been obvious: The Wesleyan Media Project said there have been more commercials about the Senate race in Wisconsin than in any state outside Nevada.

  8. “Do you think The Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission was

    a) naïvely mistaken

    b) cynically partisan

    c) neither of the above”

    It was b) A cynically partisan FUCK YOU American people, we work for the corporate overlords.

  9. The Citizens United decision is a vile, insidious, and brazen attack on the sanctity of our democracy and the value of each American’s vote. Regardless of your political leanings, this issue is fundamentally anti-American. The attack has been successful — hidden corporations donating hundreds of millions of dollars, have hijacked political discussion and suffocated opposing views. And it will get much worse. In 2012, such anonymous spending will explode. Our democracy is truly under assault. We must pass the Disclose Act. It will at least force these donors to reveal who they are. join us. Be a part of the solution.

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