Ending Citizens United doesn’t End Money as Speech and “Corporate Personhood”

Today marks the 14th Anniversary of the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision. The ruling permitted corporations and labor unions to make unlimited “independent” political contributions (i.e. spending for or against candidates that are not made in consultation or cooperation with them, their campaigns or any political party).

The super rich could also shield their political “donations” (more like political “investments”) in “dark money” organizations, nonprofits not required to disclose their donors.

  • In the 2010 midterm election, the first after Citizens United, total spending on all federal elections was over $4.9 billion.  It rose to more than $8.9 billion in 2022, a 181 percent increase.

  • For the 20 years preceding Citizens United, non-party independent groups spent $750,000,000.  In the 10 years afterwards they spent $4.5 billion, a six-fold increase.  
  • During the decade before Citizens United, dark money groups contributed $129,000,000.  In the decade following they gave $963,000,000, over seven times more.

The political voices of the super rich and corporate entities were further heard and heeded following Citizens United, while the political voices of those without money who didn’t or couldn’t afford to make political contributions were further drowned out. Citizens United further corrupted our “democracy.”

Further is the key word.

The “corruption of democracy” goes way beyond Citizens United and political elections.

Citizens United needs to be reversed, no doubt about it. 

But it’s a constitutional myth to believe that the following originated with Citizens United:

  • The constitutional doctrine that “political money equals speech.” That began with the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo Supreme Court ruling.

  • The corporate “right” to spend money in elections. That started with the 1978 First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti Supreme Court case.

  • ”Corporate personhood.” That began in the 1880s with the Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company and Minneapolis & St. Louis Railroad Co. v. Beckwith Supreme Court decisions establishing corporate due process and equal protection “rights.” Corporate constitutional rights now includes the First Amendment “right” not to speak, Fourth Amendment search and seizure “rights,” Fifth Amendment takings “rights,” among others. These hijacked corporate constitutional rights have resulted in massive and forever-increasing harms to people, communities and the natural world.

If nine of us for a day became Supreme Court Justices and (following the return from various junkets around the world) were able to simply reverse Citizens United, none of the above would change. 

If we don’t correctly understand the problem, we’ll never correctly solve it.

Ask yourself as you think back to 2009 before Citizens United. Did you feel your voices were politically heard? That the political influence of the super rich was the same as yours? That major corporations were unable to steer laws, regulations, tax breaks, bailouts, etc in their favor? 

The day Citizens United was decided was the day Move to Amend was launched. For the past 14 years, we have been educating, advocating and organizing to correct the myth that Citizens United birthed “money is speech” and “corporate personhood.”

Spend a few minutes reviewing any of the items on our Corporate Constitutional Rights Resources webpage to learn how corporate entities have hijacked existing Constitutional Amendments, using them as both shields from democratic accountability and swords to overturn democratically passed laws protecting the health, safety and welfare of people, communities and the natural world.

No question, “simply” reversing Citizens United, as some national groups promote, is much easier than enacting the We the People Amendment (HJR54) that calls for the abolition of money as speech and all forms of corporate constitutional rights. Who doesn’t want to take an easier path?

But we must be honest and accurate with ourselves and others. It’s fine to rail against Citizens United for its role in the “corruption of democracy” as far as it goes. The anti-democratic train of the corruption of big money in elections and corporate rule, however, left the station decades and a century ago, respectfully. If we don’t derail it and all we do is “End Citizens United,” we’ll still be democratically crushed.

We must end all forms of corporate constitutional rights and money as free speech, as the We the People Amendment demands.

Thank you for being part of this challenging, but essential ride to take on the growing multiple crises we face and can overcome.

Onwards for the democracy and world we all deserve.

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