Are corporations people? Is money speech? The Supreme Court, in deciding Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010, answered yes to these questions. The ruling maintained that, since corporations are people and money is speech, political spending is protected under the First Amendment.
This ruling has released a downpour of "dark money" through Super PACs that work to influence elections. As corporations are granted certain privacy and other legal protections, most of these contributions are never made public.
The court decided that corporations, PACs and unions are "natural" persons with constitutional rights. But in his dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens argued that corporations are not people, and are therefore not protected by the Constitution.
After the Citizens United ruling, President Obama said, "[L]ast week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests—including foreign corporations—to spend without limit in our elections."
Obama was prophetic. The Brennan Center for Justice reports that super PACs spent $486 million in the 2014 Senate elections, more than twice what they spent in 2010. Just 195 donors gave nearly 60 percent of the $1 billion spent by super PACs on all federal elections since Citizens United was decided in 2010.
In 2014, the California Legislature passed SB 1272 to place Proposition 49 on the ballot. The non-binding legislation would have asked California's congressional delegation to support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. But the California Supreme Court blocked the proposition because of lengthy legal review, and it was pulled from the ballot. However, if we act now, we may still have a chance to vote on Proposition 49, as the court concludes its review of the measure Oct. 6.
If you want to send a strong message to Congress, go to http://bit.ly/sign-prop49 to sign the petition and demand that the California Supreme Court let the people vote. You must sign the petition before Oct. 5. When corporations become people and money becomes speech it's time to get involved.
Bill Wadsworth lives in Occidental. Open Mic is a weekly feature in the 'Bohemian.' We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, write firstname.lastname@example.org.