To the Editor:
There are two ways to look at the Supreme Court decision that enables corporations to spend what they wish to influence elections to public office. It will come to be known either as the death knell of our democracy or as the fire alarm that aroused the people to save it. It is up to us which future prevails.
The decision two years ago in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission was a predictable corollary to the tragic mistake the court made in 1976 when it held in Buckley v. Valeo that limits on spending by candidates and their supporters violate freedom of speech. Our democracy has been dying by degrees ever since. But too few people seemed to notice until the outrageous central premise in Citizens — that corporations are no different from natural persons — jolted everyone awake.
The majority in Buckley recognized the corrupting potential of large contributions given directly to candidates. It pretended, however, that large sums spent by others would not have the same effect. Such a sophistry makes sense only to amoral politicians and their black-robed enablers. When Art Pope and the Koch billionaires invest millions of dollars through political action committees and other fronts, the legislators they elect can be left in no doubt as to whom there is a debt to be paid. But however wrong the Supreme Court may be, the Constitution is still what the court says it is. Our present crisis calls for amending the Constitution to say that corporations are not people and that Congress and the states may enact reasonable regulations on campaign spending whatever the source.
Amending the Constitution is difficult, as it should be. Two-thirds of each house of Congress must propose an amendment; it takes 38 states to ratify. Corporate power will resist at every step. For the people to do nothing is to sign democracy’s death warrant.
Our task begins with signing the petitions, being circulated by many organizations, that respond to Citizens United. It means refusing to vote for any candidate for Congress or the General Assembly who does not pledge to support an amendment. If ever there was a time for single-issue voting and an issue that merited it, this is the issue and this is the time.