U.S. Supreme Court building (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
The U.S. Supreme Court Thursday ruled that corporations have the same right to free speech as individuals, thus paving the way for big money interests to finance political campaigns. Wisconsin politicians are speaking out about the controversial ruling.
Democrat Senator Russ Feingold, in a published statement, called the decision “a terrible mistake” and said that the voices of the American people will be “drowned out by corporate spending” in federal elections.
Rep. Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat representing Madison and its surrounding communities, echoed Feingold’s views. In a statement on Baldwin's Congressional website, she called the ruling “a huge blow to our democracy.” The Congresswoman referenced constituents who tell her they think big corporations have too much power in Washington. “Sadly, the a majority of Justices have sent the message that money, power, and influence rule the day…” Baldwin said.
Democrat Congressman Steven Kagen, representing the Appleton area, said the ruling was an affront to many of his Northeastern Wisconsin constituents who believe "Wall Street corporations have too much control of our government, our banks and our personal wealth," according to the Green Bay Press Gazette.
In contrast, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican representing the Menomonee Falls area, welcomed the news saying “the Court upheld freedom of Speech by striking down the part of the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance bill that barred union and corporate paid issue ads in the closing days of election campaigns.”
Campaign finance controversy
The 5 to 4 Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commision decision did in fact overturn parts of the 2002 McCain-Feingold act that restricted political ads paid for by corporations and unions in the days leading up to presidential and primary elections. The controversy centers on who should benefit from the free speech provisions of the First Amendment to the Constitution.
Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times has suggested that the ruling could significantly affect President Barack Obama’s domestic agenda by allowing big corporate interests and lobby groups, such as banks and insurance industry lobbyists, to influence the outcome of the President’s legislative proposals.
Locally, Wisconsin State Senator Jon Erpenbach, in a press release, said, “The US Supreme Court has authorized the hostile corporate takeover of our democracy.” Erpenbach, a Democrat, says he plans to move ahead with a state bill to regulate issue ads. He declared, “Today’s decision treats corporate money more favorably than the $25 contribution from a neighbor, which is simply wrong…the Court has given corporate money an advantage.”
Wisconsin political action groups speak out on Supreme Court campaign finance decision
The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign weighed in calling the Supreme Court decision “a bastardized version of democracy.” And the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group (WISPIRG) labeled Thursdya's decision “a shocking burst of judicial activism” claiming it “turns the back the clock on over 60 years of precedent.” “A corporation is not, nor has it ever been, a person with voting rights. Corporations are not your neighbors, they cannot get married, they cannot die, and a corporation is not part of “We the People,” said WISPIRG Advocate Johanna Lathrop in the group’s press release.
Wisconsin Right to Life applauded the decision in a statement by Executive Director Barbara Lyons saying, “The very notion that legislatures can impose criminal penalties on groups who simply want to inform the public about candidate positions and voting records at election time is detrimental tofree debate.” Wisconsin Right to Life is currently challenging in federal court a law enacted by the Wisconsin legislature which requires taxpayer funding of State Supreme Court elections.”
It would seem that those who stand to benefit most from the ability of corporations and lobbyists to run “issue ads” just prior to an important election generally favor the recent Supreme Court decision giving corporations the same rights as individuals. Those who favor “the little guy” in politics are adamantly opposed to the notion.