by Patricia Leslie
The 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC changed electoral politics in this country by permitting corporations and individuals to fund political campaigns with little, if any, oversight.
Sean Barnett of the Northern Virginia affiliate of Move to Amend, a national organization devoted to passage of a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, said that communicating with legislators was one way to raise awareness about the public’s disapproval of the result of the court’s decision in Citizens United. He spoke last Sunday, Oct. 26, at a forum called “Democracy is NOW for Sale,” hosted by the Falls Church League of Women at the American Legion on Oak Street.
Among other comments, Barnett said that corporations are not people and do not deserve constitutional rights afforded citizens.
At the event, Robert Crowe, the F.C. League of Women Voters’ programs co-chair, narrated a PowerPoint presentation developed by the Massachusetts League of Women Voters’ office called “Democracy in the Balance: Money, Speech and Power.” The presentation was about campaign finance reform. It outlined the history, laws and court decisions leading up to Citizens United and will be available beginning this week on the Falls Church League’s website.
Linda Garvelink, the programs co-chair with Crowe, emphasized that the League has not yet taken a position to amend the Constitution regarding Citizens United, but expects to issue an opinion next year after it concludes a lengthy study. She still had her own opinions on the matter, though.
“They [politicians] don’t worry about their constituents; they worry about pleasing donors,” Garvelink said.
Like many events, the most interesting part came with questions from the audience which Crowe, Barnett and Garvelink fielded.
Barnett said legislation, regulation and constitutional amendment were ways to implement change and an audience member, Bob McCan, had a suggestion: Change the composition of the Supreme Court he said, which can he said can happen if Hillary Clinton is elected for two terms beginning in 2016.
More than 500 jurisdictions including the cities of Falls Church, Alexandria, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and 16 states have passed resolutions which support the passage of an amendment to upstage Citizens United and stop corporate buyouts of politicians, Barnett said. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has yet to make a decision.
Barnett’s Move to Amend group visited Virginia’s senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, which might have affected the senators’ decisions to support an amendment overturning Citizens United. But it failed to pass in the Senate, receiving 55 of the necessary 60 votes. It will likely be brought up again, Barnett said.
Legislators and candidates stand to lose huge corporate dollars if they endorse the amendment, which makes hearing from voters vital, so that they know they have the support of the people even if they lose support from donors.
“Political leaders need to hear from all the voters that they want change [to the Citizens United verdict] to happen,” Barnett said. He compared super PACs to nuclear powers: “If one side has it [money], the other side must have it.”
“Money is speech” was a refrain heard throughout the afternoon. The PowerPoint noted that more than half of all individual donations to super PACs in 2012 came from 47 individuals representing .000015 percent of the U.S. population, who each gave favorite recipients more than $1 million. Some call it “secret” or “dark” money.
In Richmond, Calif., Chevron spent $1.3 million to attack three candidates in a local race, Garvelink said. Chevron resisted proposals to implement air pollution and other safety requirements at its Richmond refinery after a disastrous explosion and fire.
The League of Women Voters next program, “Envisioning Falls Church’s Future,” is Sunday, Nov. 16, from 2:30 – 4:30 p.m. at the Falls Church Community Center. The Urban Land Institute’s study of the new land acquired by the City will be discussed.