Democrats rush to curb ruling’s impact

February 1, 2010


— The sober, sprawling State of the Union address President Obama delivered last week was marked by one extraordinary moment. It came when the president looked down at six robed members of the Supreme Court, seated directly in front of him, and criticized their recent 5-4 decision that he said “will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections.”

While Democrats stood applauding his call on Congress to pass legislation narrowing the impact of the ruling, the TV cameras caught Justice Samuel Alito, one of the two George W. Bush appointees who made the reversal of precedent possible, apparently mouthing the words, “Not true.”

Such direct confrontations between the branches of the federal government are almost unprecedented, and they set the stage for what ought to be a serious debate.

The day after, much of the discussion was focused narrowly on the question whether Obama was correct in saying that foreign corporations would be unleashed on American elections by the justices’ decision.

The dissenting opinion of Justice John Paul Stevens had put the proposition more carefully. It said that the reasoning behind the majority opinion, barring restrictions on corporate-financed political ads, “would appear to afford the same protection to multinational corporations controlled by foreigners as to individual Americans.”

But the majority opinion specifically said it was not deciding that question because no foreign-controlled entity was involved in this case. Lawyers differ in their speculation on how the court would rule if that question is presented.

But Obama does not want Congress to wait for possible further damage to campaign finance regulation by the conservative wing of the court. Democrats are ready to attempt legislative steps to reduce the impact of the ruling that the First Amendment invalidates all past efforts to limit domestic corporations using their own funds to support or oppose candidates.

Indeed, as soon as the court signaled last year its interest in reviewing that fundamental constitutional question, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, and members of Obama’s White House counsel’s office began meeting quietly to prepare a strategy in case the ruling went against them — as it did.

Several senators and representatives have already introduced bills that would — if found constitutional — keep intact the existing ban on ads financed by foreign or foreign-controlled corporations.

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will convene to canvass ideas for going further in order to limit the newly proclaimed rights of domestic corporations and unions to finance campaign ads from their own treasuries.

One option, a Schumer aide told me, might be an attempt to preserve the ban for corporations that employ Washington lobbyists, or enjoy government contracts or receive government bailouts or other substantial subsidies. Another idea is to require the CEO of a company to appear at the end of its political ad, just as candidates already have to do.

Another notion is to require the main funders to be identified by name or by corporate logo in their ads. Or, some suggest, a law might require stockholder approval for any corporate political message.

With the 2010 campaign season about to begin in Illinois, which has a primary Tuesday, congressional Democrats are understandably anxious to shut down the corporate spigot as much as they still can and as fast as they can.

Van Hollen told me that his goal is to have a bill ready to introduce within the next two weeks and to secure hearings soon thereafter.

It is no coincidence that Schumer and Van Hollen, the two prime movers designated by the Democratic leadership of the Senate and House, are also the men who played key roles in the Democratic takeover of both sides of the Capitol.

Some political observers speculate that companies will be slow to take advantage of the new political freedom the court has given them, holding back rather than risking a high profile that might cost them customers.

But the Democrats do not want to take that chance.

Some, like Van Hollen, even think that if Republicans try to block a measure to re-lock the door against foreign corporations playing in American politics, “it could become a public issue” in the fall campaign.

— David Broder is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


Brent Garner 8 years, 3 months ago

What seems to be overlooked in this entire issue is that the group who brought the original lawsuit is not a big money corporation as being described but a citizen group. The issue this group was after was an exemption by the FEC for their movie "Hillary". This morphed into a free speech issue which centered around the question do campaign donations or dollars spent advocating in politics constitute free speech. The problem for the lefties is that there is a generally held belief that the ability to spend your dollars in support of a particular political position is seen as the equivalent of political speech which is fully protected by the Constitution. And, for those who are screaming about massive corporate donations coming to candidates, please note that direct contributions are still banned. Foreign corporate donations are still banned. What has been set free is that individuals organized as corporations can run ads advocating political positions as long as they do not coordinate directly with any particular candidate and as long as there is not some quid pro quo.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 3 months ago

What's really required is relatively simple, if not easy-- Amend the constitution to declare an obvious bit of fiction for what it is. We need an amendment acknowledging that corporations are not persons.

As long so-called conservatives now on the court can rule with impunity based on the inane notion that an abstract creation of the state is a "person," there is almost no limit to the further idiocy that can flow from this Alice-In-Wonderland notion.

KS 8 years, 3 months ago

I watched that segment. He didn't look down at the Supremes and make that statement. He looked out and above them He can't look folks directly in the eye and lie. That is why he uses a teleprompter. BTW, corporations enjoy all the rights of individuals except one. That being the right to vote and that may have now changed. A corporation can own property, enter into contracts, borrow and/or loan money, be sued, be fined, they can live and die, etc. The list goes on and on. They are now being given the right to free speech. About time.

Flap Doodle 8 years, 3 months ago

Should all candidates disable common security measures on their websites to allow untraceable cash donations as Dear Leader did?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 3 months ago

"That being the right to vote and that may have now changed."

In which case, I'll incorporate my cat. She's been denied her full rights for too long.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 3 months ago

And when will corporations be allowed to marry? Adopt children? Can they enroll in school? What would the residency requirements be?

Satirical 8 years, 3 months ago

Bozo… “We need an amendment acknowledging that corporations are not persons.”

Before corporations were considered “persons,” common law didn’t allow them to be sued. So what you are proposing is to make corporations immune from lawsuits. Talk about conservative…

georgiahawk 8 years, 3 months ago

Righties, don't be fooled, you can find yourself on the wrong end of the stick just the same as the lefties can. I don't understand why actual people would be willing to delute their power for the corporations (not people). What is so hard to understand about the simple concept; of the people, by the people and for the people.

jafs 8 years, 3 months ago


One doesn't need to give corporations all of the same rights as individuals simply to ensure that they can be held accountable by lawsuits.

sfjayhawk 8 years, 3 months ago

How does anyone - regardless of political affiliation - think that corporations = person? This ruling will take things from bad to worse. Shame on the supreme court.

Satirical 8 years, 3 months ago

Georgiahawk… “What is so hard to understand about the simple concept; of the people, by the people and for the people.”

I think it has been clearly established that a corporation is a person. Try a new argument.

Satirical 8 years, 3 months ago

Jafs… “One doesn't need to give corporations all of the same rights as individuals simply to ensure that they can be held accountable by lawsuits.”

I never said as much, but bozo advocated declaring a corporation is not a person, which would have the direct results as I have stated. If he meant to say something different, he should have stated as much.

georgiahawk 8 years, 3 months ago

Satirical, then they were wrong. From what I understand, corporations are "persons", not by any definitive conclusion on an argument but because the clerk included it. Now that we have an activist Supreme Court, they can revisit the original decision. I would like to think that they can look at it again, but from a human point of view.

Ricky_Vaughn 8 years, 3 months ago

TomShewmon (Tom Shewmon) says… One of the fears on the left is that knowing historically the GOP generally benefits from large corp. donations ========================================= Gee, I wonder why? Upper class tax-cuts anybody?

Flap Doodle 8 years, 3 months ago

Speaking of money & politics, another one of Dear Leader's fellow Chicago corruptocrats is going to prison.

“Ald. Isaac "Ike" Carothers pleaded guilty today to federal corruption charges in a deal with prosecutors that calls for him to be sentenced to 28 months in prison. His attorney said Carothers plans to resign from the City Council today, as required by law. In admitting he accepted $40,000 in improvements to his home for supporting a developer's controversial project in his ward, Carothers joins a long list of crooked aldermen who have helped cement Chicago's reputation for political corruption. The 29th Ward alderman pleaded guilty to one count of failing to report the home improvements on his income taxes and to one count of corruptly accepting items of value for supporting a zoning change for the project…. Carothers' conviction brings to 28 the number of alderman found guilty of wrongdoing since 1972. One of those was Carothers' father, William, who was accused of similar wrongdoing as his son. The elder Carothers was sentenced to 3 years in federal prison in 1983 for extorting remodeling work for his ward office…” http://www.chicagobreakingnews.com/2010/02/ald-carothers-pleads-guilty-to-corruption-charges.html

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 3 months ago

"I think it has been clearly established that a corporation is a person."


person |ˈpərsən| noun ( pl. people |ˈpēpəl| or persons ) 1 a human being regarded as an individual : the porter was the last person to see her | she is a person of astonishing energy. • used in legal or formal contexts to refer to an unspecified individual : the entrance fee is $10.00 per person. • [in sing. ] [with adj. ] an individual characterized by a preference or liking for a specified thing : she's not a cat person. • an individual's body : I have publicity photographs on my person at all times. • a character in a play or story : his previous roles in the person of a fallible cop. 2 Grammar a category used in the classification of pronouns, possessive determiners, and verb forms, according to whether they indicate the speaker ( first person), the addressee ( second person), or a third party ( third person). 3 Christian Theology each of the three modes of being of God, namely the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit, who together constitute the Trinity.

Under which of the above definitions do corporations belong? And if none of them, please supply one that doesn't resort to some circular use of the Supreme Court's weird use of a word that refers strictly to a living, breathing human to describe an abstract organizational structure.

And if corporations are persons, what about other organizations? Churches? City league softball teams? The Crips or Bloods?

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