Supreme Court Reaffirms Corporations’ Right to Spend Unlimited Money to Influence Elections

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a ruling by the Montana Supreme Court that challenged corporations’ right to influence elections with political contributions. In doing so, it reaffirmed its 2010 Supreme Court Decision “Citizens United versus the Federal Election Commission” (usually referred to simply as “Citizens United“) that effectively made it legal for corporations to spend an unlimited amount of money to influence elections.

The amount of money (including $35 Million spent already by one casino owner to defeat President Obama) and the negativity it has fueled so far in the 2012 election has crossed the line for many citizens. Politicians on each side of the aisle have urged President Barack Obama and Presumptive Nominee Romney to use less negativity in their campaigning. Cory Booker, Newark (NJ) Mayor and rising star of the Democratic Party, in particular, made headlines by assailing the negativity of both parties. In an ironic twist, his words were used in Republican Party attack ads against Barack Obama.

Negative campaigning works. It’s an old tactic that has impacted election after election. What’s new this year is the huge amount of money, and the sources of that money, that are fueling the fire.
Florida Representative Ted Deutsch, who has proposed a constitutional amendment that would outlaw unlimited spending by corporations, said the decision “doubled down on the dangerous assertion made in Citizens United that corporations are people with a constitutional right to spend unchecked amounts of money influencing our elections. By striking down Montana’s long-held ban on corporate campaign contributions, this radical decision undermines good government laws nationwide and further jeopardizes century-old federal law banning direct corporate giving to campaigns.”

The Supreme Court’s decision was effectively split along party lines. The Supreme Court is presumptively ‘nonpartisan’ (remember all the controversy over litmus tests), but the five justices nominated by Republican Presidents all supported Citizens United, the beatdown given to unions last week, as well as this decision on Montana’s law. All four Justices appointed by Democratic Presidents held dissenting opinions and votes in each case. As the next President will likely appoint at least one Supreme Court Justice, we have to ask ourselves: what kind of Supreme Court do we want?

Photo Courtesy of DonkeyHotey on Flickr Creative Commons

Scott Cooney, Principal of GreenBusinessOwner.com and author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill, November 2008), is also a serial ecopreneur who has started and grown several green businesses and consulted several other green startups. He co-founded the ReDirect Guide, a green business directory, in Salt Lake City, UT. He greened his home in Salt Lake City, including xeriscaping, an organic orchard, extra natural fiber insulation, a 1.8kW solar PV array, on-demand hot water, energy star appliances, and natural paints. He is a vegetarian, an avid cyclist, ultimate frisbee player, and surfer, and currently lives in the sunny Mission district of San Francisco. Scott is working on his second book, a look at microeconomics in the green sector.In June 2010, Scott launched GreenBusinessOwner.com, a sustainability consulting firm dedicated to providing solutions to common business problems by leveraging the power of the triple bottom line. Focused exclusively on small business, GBO's mission is to facilitate the creation and success of small, green businesses.