Archive for the ‘Activism’ Category

The Supreme Court’s 2010 decision to open the floodgates to unlimited corporate expenditures in elections has recently been thrust back into the spotlight by the international Occupy movement. And rightly so, given that the Americans creating a “church of dissent” in urban public spaces are echoing popular discontent with a broken political process– one where the voices of “We the People” seem to be drowned out by powerful special interests all too often.

Thus, it’s fitting that, as they’ve cast a spotlight on a ruling that is widely reviled by Americans across the political spectrum, Occupy participants have inadvertently highlighted another sad result of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.  As Professor David Kairys observed the day the ruling was handed down (full disclosure: I conducted research on Citizens United under Professor Kairys’ supervision in 2010), corporations’ attempts to influence elections through unlimited spending are now granted a heightened level of constitutional protection compared to, say, everyday citizens:

Political cartoon by Cory M. Grenier, via Flickr.

“Taken as a whole, the conservative court’s First Amendment jurisprudence has enlarged the speech rights available to wealthy people and corporations and restricted the speech rights available to people of ordinary means and to dissenters.”

Indeed, the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the First Amendment in recent decades specifically limits Occupy encampments’ potential recourse against government restrictions. As Christopher Dunn of the New York Civil Liberties Union explained, today’s gatherings are potentially limited by the Court’s 1983 decision in Clark v. Community for Creative Non-Violence (“CCNV”).

CCNV upheld the National Park Service’s decision to prevent advocates for the homeless from sleeping in Lafayette Park (across the street from the White House) and on the National Mall, and limit them to daytime protest. Camping out in the park was meant to be a central part of the activists’ critical message about Reagan administration policies. Nevertheless, the government’s valid interests in public safety and the “aesthetic value” of national parkland for tourists were given broad deference by the Court (too much deference according to the late Justice Thurgood Marshall’s dissent).

CCNV doesn’t give state and local officials carte blanche to evict today’s encampments, of course; as Dahlia Lithwick points out, it is an open legal question “whether the regulations being used to shut down protest are bogus attempts to use neutral-sounding rules to suppress speech.”  And as Dunn notes, he was able to successfully represent advocates in New York who wanted to sleep on the sidewalk in front of Gracie Mansion to protest then Mayor Giuliani’s policies.

Still, when you look at CCNV alongside other court rulings over the past few decades that have limited the scope and form of individual free speech rights, the clear reality is that the First Amendment is far from a surefire defense against government regulation.

In sharp contrast, Citizens United places even modest, bipartisan restrictions on the manner and target of corporate spending in elections into the category of constitutional “strict scrutiny.” They were deemed a “classic example of censorship” to be vigorously guarded against according to Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Kennedy simply brushed aside Justice John Paul Stevens’ dissenting observation that corporations still wield the ability to form political action committees, have their executives and board members make individual contributions, and otherwise lobby and make their preferences clear. As a result, there was no deferential balancing of interests like in CCNV. Laws restricting corporate spending are presumptively unconstitutional, and can’t be upheld unless the government has an extremely compelling reason for them.

And lo and behold! Kennedy and his colleagues determined that Congress’ concern for the corrosive impact of unlimited corporate money is simply too speculative. Without hard and fast evidence of quid pro quo corruption, efforts to halt the undermining of the quintessential public forum at the heart of our democracy– the elections in which individual, and not corporate, citizens cast their ballots– are for naught.

So even though corporate spending to back political candidates was never imagined to be a form of protected speech (let alone subject to such elevated protection) by the Framers, thanks to Citizens United, it has been placed at the heart of the First Amendment.

Meanwhile, citizens who have not incorporated themselves and aren’t flush with cash, but wish to express their displeasure with the ruling and the broader distortion of our democracy, have greater restrictions than large corporations on their right to speak out.

It is precisely this skewed reality that makes me, as a student of American history, a newly-minted lawyer, and a citizen of this great nation, proud to be a part of the Democracy is for People campaign’s effort to pass a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United.  If you’re equally outraged, and equally impassioned to do something about it, then get involved in this movement today.

Sean Siperstein is a Legal Fellow with the Democracy is For People campaign.

People are taking action across the country to mark the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that corporate political spending is the same thing as real speech by real people.

Left unchecked, the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling will have grave consequences for our democracy. In last fall’s elections, corporate spending soared, and sources of outside spending were kept secret. This outside money was a major factor in 80 percent of the races where power changed hands.

Now, any lawmaker who is interested in standing against corporate interests has to figure out how to say ‘no’ to corporate lobbyists wielding the resources to replace him or her with a more corporate-friendly lawmaker.

But We, the People are mobilizing to fight back.

From Massachusetts to Oregon, Florida to Alaska, more than 100 demonstrations are being held throughout the nation.
Even a group of socially conscious business corporations, led by Ben & Jerry’s, is standing up to assert that we need a constitutional amendment to stop the corporate takeover of our democracy.

Nearly a million concerned citizens have signed petitions calling on Congress to pass such a constitutional amendment — petitions that will be delivered to Congress at noon today (Public Citizen’s petition is at www.DontGetRolled.org).

If you’re participating in today’s actions, be sure to take pictures, make videos, blog and tweet about what you’re doing. You can share your photos, videos and other documentation with us by sending an email to action@citizen.org, sending a tweet to @Public_Citizen or posting it on our Facebook page.

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If you’ve seen the Obama administration’s financial regulatory proposals, formally released today, you might be a bit overwhelmed. The 85-page document details many different elements deemed necessary for financial reform, including the creation of a strong Consumer Financial Regulatory Agency, new rules to prevent predatory and reckless lending, and much more.

But none of these reforms can take place with the current attitudes of the banking industry and Wall Street. Even Sen. Dick Durbin (D- Ill.) has said:

“The banks are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place.”

Even as it gets trillions of taxpayer dollars in bailouts, the industry that got us into this economic mess is lobbying as hard as ever against real reform. Never mind that Bank of America, after taking $45 billion of our money, spent $10 million on a five-day Super Bowl party. Never mind that AIG, after taking over $170 billion of our money, handed out $165 million in bonuses, including millions to traders who contributed to the company’s collapse.

That’s why Public Citzen has banded together with nearly 200 other organizations, ranging from financial experts to community advocates, to form Americans for Financial Reform, a coalition dedicated to changing the dynamic that has been in place too long where Wall Street bankers write the rules for themselves. Together, we’re calling on Congress and the Obama administration to put in place a strong watchdog structure with the resources and authority to keep Wall Street in check and protect our financial security. Our ultimate goal is to achieve reforms that keep people in their homes and prompt smart investment in communities and businesses that create good jobs and strong neighborhoods.

Want to get involved? Sign our petition demanding transparency, oversight, and accountability in the financial industry. We must remind our representatives in Washington that the bankers on Wall Street never again have so much control over—and so little concern for—the citizens of Main Street.

by Public Citizen health researcher James Floyd, M.D.

On Tuesday, eight courageous activists stood up to Sen. Max Baucus and demanded that single-payer national health insurance be considered. The confrontation, which drew police to the chamber, occurred during a roundtable discussion on health reform held by the Senate Finance Committee, which Baucus chairs. This was one of the few times that single-payer has been covered in the mainstream press, and it’s shameful it took something as dramatic as the arrest of physicians and other activists to make it newsworthy.

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