Some people working to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case clearly don’t understand the issue.

A few years after this 2010 decision, I interviewed a member of an Occupy group in the western suburbs of Chicago.

His solution was to amend the U.S. Constitution so that groups no longer had any rights.

This, he said, would allow the government to reduce the political influence of big money by regulating corporate entities more heavily.

I told him this would put a lot of people, such as racial and ethnic minorities, at risk of discrimination.

He responded that legislators could fix this problem by passing laws protecting specific groups.

The inherent flaw with this approach never dawned on him.

This would create an arbitrary process where some favored groups were granted legal protection while others were not.

A recent article in Newsweek further demonstrated what’s wrong with the movement to reverse the Citizens United case.

Jeffrey D. Clements penned an opinion column titled “Drain big money out of politics. Overturn Citizens United. Pass the 28th Amendment,” posted online July 30.

Clements serves as president of American Promise, a group formed to pass a constitutional amendment to restrict spending designed to influence elections.

He also wrote the 2011 book, “Corporations Are Not People: Why They Have More Rights Than You Do and What You Can Do About It.”

In his column, Clements lauds the introduction of the Democracy for All Amendment by congressional Democrats.

It has the support of U.S. Sens. Kirsten E. Gillibrand and Charles E. Schumer, both of New York.

Gillibrand is among the presidential candidates calling for the amendment’s implementation.

“If passed and ratified, the amendment will become the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This constitutional amendment will enable what the vast majority of Americans across the political spectrum urgently want, which are reasonable limits on money in state and federal elections to combat corruption, increase electoral competition and protect the right of every American to speak, be heard and have representation in our political system,” Clements wrote. “With record-breaking money flooding our political system, a collapse in confidence in both our government and democracy itself, political parties fragmented and challenged by outsiders, independents, and billionaire-driven freelance political operations, any calculation about the stability of current political alignments is hazardous at best. Today, the American electorate is alienated, angry and fearful, sensing that the people have lost control of the system. And they’re right.”

Clements believes big money is destroying the electoral system.

While the massive amount of revenue that floods politics is problematic, he’s wrong on a few points.

“Data shows that because money reigns, most Americans cannot participate meaningfully in determining candidates and election results,” he wrote. “Wealthy Americans and corporate interests hold wildly disproportionate influence, and they typically have different policy preferences than the average voter. Incumbents raise more money because they can reward donors and punish enemies, and they usually win, no matter how frustrated the voters may be.”

Let’s clarify the errors that Clements makes here.

The Citizens United v. FEC and a subsequent Supreme Court case, SpeechNow.org v. FEC, dealt with how groups could spend money on expressing their views.

They did not address direct contributions to political candidates, so Clements is misleading on this point.

And his statement that “most Americans cannot participate meaningfully in determining candidates and election results” is absurd.

Information on who is running for elective office and what stances they have taken is readily available — if people choose to look for it.

The biggest problem with the political process is not too much money but too few voters.

Many people eligible to cast ballots don’t do so simply because they’re lazy.

If they cared enough about participating in our remarkable experiment of self-government, they could collectively overwhelm those with deep pockets.

What’s killing democracy in our country is apathy, not big money.

Elected officials respond to those who put them in office and keep them in power.

If more Americans would bother to vote, imagine the changes we could make.

For people who want to “get money out of politics,” here’s a challenge:

Get elected to public office without spending a cent.

If they can accomplish this, I’ll take their arguments more seriously.

Otherwise, they should put more effort into dragging potential voters off their couches and push them toward polling places.

The best tools to combat political propaganda are a healthy sense of skepticism and a determination to use critical thinking skills to parse what’s true from what’s false.

Let’s find a way to significantly increase voter turnout before messing with the Constitution.

This will go a long way toward resolving the problem at hand while avoiding the unintended consequences that passing an amendment would incur.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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(4) comments

rdsouth

You've convinced me that we need to be careful about taking legal rights away from corporations. However, money is not speech. Theoretically we should all just vote our problems away, but reality is money buys effective campaigns and politicians know it so they're greedy and they accept "speech" from lobbyists. It affects us greatly and needs to stop. Even though we can vote, politicians now in office are corrupted by the constant need for campaign cash. Step one is to just make it public, no dark money.

zeitgeist

So true! Voters have collectively assumed a victim mentality-- "big money renders me (and my vote) powerless, disrespected and persecuted. Poor me. I mean nothing in the grand scheme of things." What are the downtrodden to do? Share their plight with other downtrodden. The shared sentiment is pervasive; the cumulative affirmation is astounding. It's more appealing to wallow in a misperceived and fake oppressive force than take charge, take responsibility, become an informed voter, and vote. "Poor me." Poor us.

rdsouth

So, a victim mentality is when people get together and decide to do something about an issue they don't like. I see.

gasgun

This editorial has spiked my blood pressure. How can an obviously intelligent man like Mr. Moore be so obtuse? While there are areas where corporations rightly deserve some privileges afforded to individuals (right to contract, right to sue) it is patently absurd to consider them as persons. Not too long ago African Americans were denied protection of the constitution. "If the logical flaw in Dred Scott was mistaking a person (Mr. Scott) for a piece of property, the blunder in Citizens United was mistaking a piece of property (a corporation) for a person." If a foreign government "meddles" in US elections, people are outraged. Corporations are abstract entities with no allegiance to this country. Their meddling in US elections is no less objectionable. The US legal system has tied itself into a Gordian knot by extending some protection to corporations and then lost its mind in Citizens United. I will accept Mr. Moore's position when he shows me proof of a corporation having undergone a colonoscopy.

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