Supremes Summer Surprise — Expanding Corporate Rights

The Supreme Court is laying the foundation for granting a dramatic expansion of corporate rights — specifically, whether corporations can directly donate/invest to political candidates.

In March, the Court heard arguments on the question of whether it was legal for Citizens United, Incorporated to broadcast the film, Hillary: The Movie.

Citizens United produced and sought to distribute the film during the 2008 Presidential race. They challenged existing federal law regulated corporate funding and participation in “electioneering communications” within 60 days prior to a federal election. The group claimed the regulations (the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, BCRA) was a violation of its First Amendment free speech rights.

Citizens United lost its case in a lower federal court and appealed to the US Supremes which first heard arguments in March.

On June 29, the Supremes had not decided on the original narrow case. They ordered, instead, a re-argument for September 9 on not only the BCRA law but on whether two other laws concerning corporate limits on campaign contributions should be overturned— Austin v Michigan Chamber of Commerce and McConnell v. Federal Election Commission. This is a dramatic expansion of attention since, in particular, the Austin law directly prohibits corporations from using their treasury funds in support of or opposition to political candidates.

The Supremes put the case on a blinding fast-track — with a deadline of July 31 for briefs to be filed and arguments for a expanded case for September 9.

The Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy (POCLAD — is one of 5 groups that filed an Amicus Brief (legal document of support) calling for the upholding of restrictions on corporate political campaign expenditures. The main point of the brief (links to press release and Brief below) is simple — corporations are not people so the First Amendment does not apply.

All of this is happening during the heat of summer — when many are escaping the stresses of the rest of the year and enjoying the beauty of the outdoors. Since corporations are not people, however, they never sleep — or rest.

The threat to self-governance will dramatically expanded if we lose.

POCLAD in the next few days will be considering sponsoring a public action outside the Supreme Court to coincide with the September 9 oral arguments — to raise awareness and provide some degree of pressure on the 9 robed ones. Calls, letters, and faxes to the court will also be encouraged. (Unfortunately, our choices are limited since the Court is beyond direct democratic control thanks to the Constitution).

While a corporation is not a person without a conscience, the members of the Supreme Court are human beings who do have a conscience that can be appealed to — or, at the very least, pressured to some degree.

Spread the word. Review the information below. Stay tuned…


Amicus Brief press release

Amicus Brief

A Century-Old Principle: Keep Corporate Money Out of Elections, By ADAM COHEN, Published: August 10, 2009, New York Times