The U.S. Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruled that corporations and labor unions have the same free-speech rights as individuals. The January 2010 decision opened the door to unlimited political spending by business and labor interests as long as it is independent of the campaigns it is intended to support.
Six years later, most respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll—nearly 85 percent—oppose the high court ruling.
As many observers predicted, Citizens United unleashed a flood of contributions to independent political action committees—so-called super PACs—and outside spending on election campaigns. Last year, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law released a report showing that spending on Senate elections has more than doubled since 2010. In all federal elections from 2010 through 2014, more than $1 billion in super PAC money was spent, with almost 60 percent coming from 195 individuals and their spouses.
The trend has continued in the 2016 presidential race. The Center for Responsive Politics reported last week that super PACs received nearly $100 million in the second half of 2015. The top 10 individual super PAC contributors in the period donated more than 25 percent of the total.
The center also has reported that spending by so-called “dark money” organizations that are not required to disclose the unlimited corporate, individual or union contributions they receive increased from less than $5.2 million in 2006 to more than $174 million in the 2014 midterms and more than $300 million in the 2012 presidential cycle.
Supporters say the Citizens United ruling protects freedom of speech and limits the power of incumbents, while opponents argue it has increased the political influence of corporations and special interests.
Citizens United could be a key issue in the fall general election, in particular if Sen. Bernie Sanders—a fierce critic of the ruling—wins the Democratic nomination for president. Sanders won Tuesday’s Democratic primary in New Hampshire by more than 20 points.
The results of this week’s Snap Poll are similar to 2012, when 78 percent of respondents opposed the Citizens United decision.
More than 650 readers participated in this week’s poll, conducted Feb. 8 and 9.
Do you support or oppose the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which allows unlimited corporate and union independent campaign spending?
Support: 16% Oppose: 84%
In your view, has the increased spending by independent political action committees, or super PACs, had a positive, negative or neutral impact on democracy in this country?
Very positive: 2% Somewhat positive: 5% Neutral: 7% Somewhat negative 15% Very negative: 71%
Ranks among one of the worst decisions of the court; right up there with the Dredd Scott decision and Plessy v. Ferguson, approving separate but equal. Corporations, LLCs and other artificial entities are not citizens.
—Nathan J. Robfogel
Spending money is not a form of free speech. Rather, it is volume control. Those with more funding can drown out those with less.
Our country is founded on an elegant and simple premise: “We the people of the United States of America.” A corporation is by definition an interest created to profit; it is not a person. It appears this ruling has contributed to increased special interest agendas focusing on greed, power and self interest. This is not serving the people of our country.
More than ever, since this ruling, our government has been for sale to the highest bidder. “Selling” political influence has been the most common bipartisan cooperation at almost every level of government.
—Tom Gillett, NYSUT
The news media wants to have a monopoly over what we know about candidates. Talk radio drives them nuts since they can’t control it, but that only reaches a certain audience. Since the news media is overwhelmingly liberal (witness the D&C locally, which is bizarrely obsessed with race), the only other way conservatives can get their message out is by paying for it. Citizens United is about freedom of speech. We need more of it, not less.
Corporations and labor unions are made up of people who all have right of free speech. No one’s rights are abridged by joining a union or a company. This ruling allows dollars to be thrown at a campaign with no information on the debt repayment required of the candidate. A terrible solution to the problem of funding candidates.
—Linda Hunt, retired
The success to date of Trump and Sanders proves that super PACs don’t have absolute control. Nevertheless, the unholy alliance between money, political operatives, pollsters and the media is embarrassing, annoying and bad for democracy.
—John Messenger, Lightower
I’m not a supporter of corporate entities being given the same free speech rights as individuals largely because these types of entities, more often than not, act purely in self-interest and not in the interest of their community or country. Corporations are not individuals. Corporations speak with a common voice for their shareholders, thus the voice is amplified as that on hundreds or thousands of other entities. If the CEO of Acme Inc. wants to support legislation or a particular candidate, that’s great. Until a corporation can run for elected office, they should not be given other rights as an individual.
Almost a stupid question. Corporate “speech” totally swamps individuals’ ability to “speak” in this way. At the corporate level, it becomes influence purchase, whereas at the individual level, it remains support.
Corporations and unions have way more money than individuals and although nominally speak for all of their employees and members, actually only speak for the people who head those organizations. Rich people should not have more free speech than people with less money; it’s unfair. Political contributions should be limited to individuals, and individual contributions should be limited.
—Robert Flum, Carestream
When an entity can easily finance support of its strongly held beliefs it leads to greater divisiveness in our politics.
—Thomas Schnorr, president, RE/MAX Realty Group
Turning our political process over to corporations and the rich is the worst thing that could have happened to democracy in the history of democracy.
—Lee Drake, CEO, OS-Cubed Inc.
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