Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission

What is the Supreme Court Decision All About?

For a quick (eight-minute) understanding of what the Citizens United vs. the FEC decision is all about, this video by Annie Leonard (who also made The Story of Stuff video) is a great beginning.

Annie Leonard (The Story of Stuff) Explains Citizens United

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The 2010 Supreme Court decision, Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission, allows corporations to contribute unlimited amounts of money to election campaigns, run ads, and basically buy elections at any level. At all levels of government, and around the world, voters and ordinary citizens are shocked, because large corporations have unlimited funds. They can use any money from anywhere in the corporation to contribute to these campaigns or run ads, and shareholders cannot vote. In many cases, the candidates that are supported are directly opposed to shareholders' interests.

This decision affects the United States in more than just the election of candidates. Each administration of government, at every level from city or county government to the United States President, appoints officials to carry out the functions of government. These officials may hold posts for twenty years or longer, and many of these officials have power over regulatory decisions that can affect the lives of the people they are supposed to represent. Because of the now unlimited power of corporations to contribute to election campaigns and advertising, your or your family's health and safety will now be controlled by corporations that have proven their capacity to kill people to save their bottom line.

Killing your shareholders is not a viable long-term strategy, but most corporations are focused only on quarterly profits and stock prices. An example of this is the pharmaceutical companies that blocked the advisories on aspirin and Reyes' syndrome. Reyes' syndrome causes major organ damage to kidneys, liver and brain, and happens when children under a certain age are given aspirin for viral infections such as chicken pox. Between 1981 and 1986, 1,470 children died preventable deaths from Reyes' syndrome, because the pharamceutical companies blocked the advisories. One year after the labelling requirement finally took effect, there were only thirty-six preventable deaths.

There are many, many other examples of corporate bad behaviour--too many to even begin to list. Large corporations routinely exploit their workers, grab community resources for their own profit, poison the environment, and control access to information needed for individuals and families to protect their health and safety.

Corporations are not real persons, and the Supreme Court recognized this in decisions as far back as 1886 in the decision Santa Clara Co. v. Southern Pacific. Corporations don't die. Corporations don't require any of the things individual persons do, and they don't pay taxes (taxes and other costs are taken out of shareholders' profits, or passed on to the consumer--they do not come out of individual persons' salaries). They don't have morals or ethics, and there is no one person responsible for bad actions.

But there is a way to fight back. First, call your Representatives and Senators, and tell them you oppose the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission, and ask them to support legislation that will control corporate election spending. Representative Alan Grayson has already introduced legislation that will help reign in corporate spending in elections.

Second, and more importantly, sell your stock in large corporations. Corporate stock is up after this decision, so you will most likely not lose money. By restricting corporations' access to shareholder dollars, you will ensure that they will have less money to spend on rigging elections, and the money these corporations spend will have to come out of upper-managements' salaries and bonuses. Instead, find other, more ethical companies to invest in. They need not be publicly traded--you can work out a deal with a local mom-and-pop business to invest in a neighbourhood company and still make money. Yes, it's more work, but isn't it worth it to ensure that a giant corporation doesn't get to decide who your next mayor, Senator, or President will be?

Third, resolve to do business with smaller companies rather than large corporations, whenever possible. Do not assume that because a large corporation advertises its products or services as being ethical, that they are. Whole Foods, for example, may provide its customers with some organic or fair-trade products, but the company actions as a whole are bad for the environment, and their political positions are designed to restrict access to green and organic products, because that will benefit Whole Foods' bottom line--a limited supply creates higher profits. Instead, search out a local farmer or go to your farmers' market. Similarly, examine your buying and resolve to support those community businesses that have posted an environmental policy on their web site, with proof of their actions. You can also move your money out of banks that have stock offerings as part of their investment strategy.

Remember, one person may not make a big difference, but millions of people, acting in concert, will make a big difference. If you're angry at Wall Street, show it by denying them access to your money! Don't let them have the power!

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