Why Citizens United Helps the Grassroots (and Scares Incumbents)

The catcalls from the political and media establishments about the Citizens United decision are actually music to our ears.

The Supreme Court ruled that corporations, including nonprofits, and unions could spend money expressly advocating the election or defeat of candidates. As a result, the grassroots are about to become very familiar with the term "independent expenditure."

In overruling the 1990 Supreme Court decision in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce banning independent expenditures by nonprofits financed in whole or in part with corporate money, Justice Anthony Kennedy writes how that decision "permit[ted] the Government to ban the political speech of millions of associations of citizens." He continues:

The purpose and effect of this [ban] is to prevent corporations, including small and nonprofit corporations, from presenting both facts and opinions to the public," and "the result is that smaller or nonprofit corporations cannot raise a voice to object when other corporations, including those with vast wealth, are cooperating with the Government.

He then goes on to note how sometimes, the cooperation between big corporations and big government is voluntary, but at other times, "it may be at the demand of a Government official who uses his or her authority, influence and power to threaten corporations to support the Government's policies."

When insurer Humana dissented about Obamacare, it was threatened by Senator Max Baucus. When attempts at bribery didn't work, House cap-and-trade sponsor Ed Markey then tried intimidation on various corporate CEOs. Under Washington rules, it's get with the program and shut your yap if you know what's good for you.

Campaign finance laws were written to protect incumbents by silencing their critics, and every amendment to those laws came with further burdens or even censorship of grassroots criticism of incumbents. They were always crafted under the ruse of tackling "corruption," but in fact, they only made corruption easier.

Large for-profit organizations could always establish political action committees (PACs) to raise money for incumbents from their officers and shareholders. Many unions have large memberships, so corporate and union PACs could expressly advocate to millions of voters.

Justice Kennedy's majority opinion in Citizens United addresses the fact that the burdens of establishing PACs, including the potential criminal penalties for noncompliance, have worked against small businesses and voluntary associations of citizens.

Citizens United will undoubtedly benefit unions. The impact for large corporations, which remain accountable to customers and shareholders, is overstated by many. Nevertheless, unions and corporations will now also be competing against thousands of smaller, independent associations amplifying the voices of millions of $100, $25, and $5 contributors, and even non-contributors who express adherence to these causes through signing petitions and completing surveys. 

Citizens who do not have vested interests in those large corporations and unions, which are often in bed with Washington, will hear from many more sources without the restraints in place before Citizens United was decided. These citizens may choose to join with other like-minded citizens, and their voices will be amplified in ways not attainable when individuals act alone.

No longer do the large, corporate-owned newspapers such as The New York Times have a government-created exemption to endorse candidates in the press. General Electric owns NBC; GE and Microsoft own MS-NBC. These government contractors will have less of a monopoly over what's said about their incumbent benefactors in Congress and the White House.

Citizens United is not a First Amendment panacea, since it keeps in place complicated and burdensome reporting requirements even for independent expenditures. 

Proportionately, however, the favorable impact for voluntarily associations, where citizens may pool their resources through nonprofits or other independent associations, will be even greater than the benefits to large unions and corporations. Because these new associations will be independent of corporate and union interests and independent of the big-government, sycophantic bias of newspapers, they will be less afraid of criticizing incumbents and actually presenting their side.

These new nonprofit associations will be motivated by a variety of interests, such as faith in and allegiance to the Constitution and markets free from corporate-government collaboration -- or even government intimidation of corporations. 

Their support will be obtained voluntarily. They are unfettered by the desire to have special access to incumbents. They do not have a symbiotic, vested interest in big government, as the corporate-owned media do.

As Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his dissenting opinion, which upheld the burdensome disclosure requirements for independent expenditures, many businesspeople are often subjected to the "threat of retaliation from elected officials" and therefore do not contribute to incumbents' challengers. They are intimidated by, and beholden to, those incumbents. 

Independent citizens, who see the problems caused by a corrupt, coerced corporatist system, are now free to pool resources to say, "Throw that politician out of office." That is far bolder than whatever any special interest beholden to Washington and entrenched power would ever dare say. Citizens United, therefore, will help those who are not tied to Washington.

This is why the corporate-owned media and many politicians have been criticizing the Citizens United decision. Those who criticize the Citizens United decision say that it opens the door to more money from big special interests.

Well, yes, the number of people who oppose corrupt, unconstitutional government is big, and getting bigger by the day. And, yes, they are special.
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