Monday, January 25, 2010

President's Continued Outrage With Supreme Court Decision

Jan 23: In his weekly Saturday radio address President Obama continued his high level criticism of the January 21, 5-4 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (Case No. 08-205) [See WIMS 1/22/10]. The decision has been described as removing restrictions and allowing corporations to spend as freely as they like to support or oppose candidates for president and Congress.

President Obama, reacted immediately to the decision when it was released and said it gave "a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics." He called it a "major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests." He continued his outrage in his weekly address saying, "In my first year in office, we pushed back on that power by implementing historic reforms to get rid of the influence of those special interests. . . We’ve been making steady progress. But this week, the United States Supreme Court handed a huge victory to the special interests and their lobbyists – and a powerful blow to our efforts to rein in corporate influence. This ruling strikes at our democracy itself. By a 5-4 vote, the Court overturned more than a century of law -- including a bipartisan campaign finance law written by Senators John McCain and Russ Feingold that had barred corporations from using their financial clout to directly interfere with elections by running advertisements for or against candidates in the crucial closing weeks.

"This ruling opens the floodgates for an unlimited amount of special interest money into our democracy. It gives the special interest lobbyists new leverage to spend millions on advertising to persuade elected officials to vote their way – or to punish those who don’t. That means that any public servant who has the courage to stand up to the special interests and stand up for the American people can find himself or herself under assault come election time. Even foreign corporations may now get into the act. I can’t think of anything more devastating to the public interest. The last thing we need to do is hand more influence to the lobbyists in Washington, or more power to the special interests to tip the outcome of elections.

"All of us, regardless of party, should be worried that it will be that much harder to get fair, common-sense financial reforms, or close unwarranted tax loopholes that reward corporations from sheltering their income or shipping American jobs off-shore. It will make it more difficult to pass commonsense laws to promote energy independence because even foreign entities would be allowed to mix in our elections.

"It would give the health insurance industry even more leverage to fend off reforms that would protect patients. We don’t need to give any more voice to the powerful interests that already drown out the voices of everyday Americans. And we don’t intend to. When this ruling came down, I instructed my administration to get to work immediately with Members of Congress willing to fight for the American people to develop a forceful, bipartisan response to this decision. We have begun that work, and it will be a priority for us until we repair the damage that has been done.

"A hundred years ago, one of the great Republican Presidents, Teddy Roosevelt, fought to limit special interest spending and influence over American political campaigns and warned of the impact of unbridled, corporate spending. His message rings as true as ever today, in this age of mass communications, when the decks are too often stacked against ordinary Americans. And as long as I’m your President, I’ll never stop fighting to make sure that the most powerful voice in Washington belongs to you."

The organization, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), issued a statement on the decision. Executive Director Melanie Sloan said, “The Supreme Court has placed the rights of corporations ahead of the rights of American voters by willfully ignoring the outsize role of money in politics and the fact that corporations have vast sums available to spend. Money buys elections and the biggest corporations with the most money will own our politicians. We are moving to an age where we won’t have the senator from Arkansas or the congressman from North Carolina, but the senator from Wal-Mart and the congressman from Bank of America.”

David Bossie, President of Citizens United said, “Today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing Citizens United to air its documentary films and advertisements is a tremendous victory, not only for Citizens United but for every American who desires to participate in the political process. As our case amply demonstrates, campaign finance legislation over the last two decades has imposed, as Justice Kennedy put it, a 'censorship . . . vast in its reach.' By overruling Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce and striking down McCain-Feingold’s ban on so-called electioneering communications, the Supreme Court has made possible the participation in our political process that is the right of every American citizen – a right that had been severely curtailed under McCain-Feingold. This is a victory for Citizens United, but even more so for the First Amendment rights of all Americans. The fault line on this issue does not split liberals and conservatives or Republicans and Democrats. Instead, it pits entrenched establishment politicians against the very people whom they are elected to serve. . ."

Citizens United also posted comments from major Republican leaders and others on their website. Some of the comments included were: Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Republican Leader who said, “For too long, some in this country have been deprived of full participation in the political process. With today’s monumental decision, the Supreme Court took an important step in the direction of restoring the First Amendment rights of these groups by ruling that the Constitution protects their right to express themselves about political candidates and issues up until Election Day.” Representative John Boehner (R-OH), House Republican Leader said, “I think the Supreme Court decisions today are a big win for the First Amendment and a step in the right direction.”

Michael Steele, Republican National Committee Chairman said the decision, “. . .serves as an affirmation of the constitutional rights provided to Americans under the first amendment. Free speech strengthens our democracy. While the Court’s recognition that organizations have the freedom to speak on public issues and have their views protected from censorship is fundamental, the Court has now left an imbalance that disadvantages national parties in their ability to support their candidates. We need to encourage a vibrant debate on the issues, and not restrict the free exchange of ideas. Though there is still more work to be done, we are pleased with today’s ruling.” Robin Conrad, U.S. Chamber of Commerce said, “Today’s ruling protects the First Amendment rights of organizations across the political spectrum, and is a positive for the political process and free enterprise.”

Access a video and link to the full text of the President's address (
click here). Access a article about the decision with links to related information (click here). Access the statement from CREW (click here). Access the Citizens United statement (click here). Access the Citizens United comments from others (click here).