Iowa House Members Support Overturning Citizens United
On the first anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Citizens United, a group of 18 Iowa state representatives has introduced a resolution seeking to overturn the ruling that has allowed corporations to pump hundreds of millions of dollars into election campaigns.
According to State Rep. Chuck Isenhart of Dubuque, House Joint Resolution 9 (HJR 9) is part of a “12-step program to begin weaning our political system from its addiction to money.”
“We need to break through the denial and start turning our lives as public servants over to a higher power – the people,” Isenhart said. “Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, corporations are not people, and it’s time to stop allowing these creatures of the law from distorting our democratic systems of government.”
Joining Isenhart as sponsors of the resolution are representatives Ako Abdul-Samad, Ruth Ann Gaines, Mary Gaskill, Curt Hanson, Bruce Hunter, Jerry Kearns, Dan Kelley, Vicki Lensing, Mark Smith, Sharon Steckman, Kurt Swaim, Todd Taylor, Andrew Wenthe, Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, Nate Willems, John Wittneben and Mary Wolfe.
In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that corporations have the same political speech rights as individuals under the First Amendment. The majority found no compelling government interest for prohibiting corporations from using their treasuries to make election-related independent expenditures.
The ruling struck down a federal law banning the practice, overruling two previous Court decisions. Since then, as many as 24 states, including Iowa, have stopped enforcing their own laws barring corporations from interfering in campaigns.
“The fallout has been immediate and dramatic, unleashing a wave of independent spending of all kinds that individual candidates are virtually powerless to combat,” Isenhart observed. “If voters have been upset with the attack TV and radio ads, mailings and telephone calls that play fast and loose with the truth and make us all look bad, then all I can say is, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” click to overturn Citizens United
During 2010, more than $1.7 million in independent spending was reported in Iowa’s state campaigns, according to the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board. That compares with $171,522 in 2006. No independent reports at all were filed in 2008. “That is the new benchmark,” Isenhart said. “I predict we will never see less than $2 million in this kind of spending ever again if we don’t do something to change the law. The 2010 elections were just a warm-up.”
In a 76-page report titled “12 Months After: The Effects of Citizens United on Elections and the Integrity of the Legislative Process,” the group Public Citizen has documented some of the damage:
*. Spending by outside groups jumped to $294.2 million in the 2010 election cycle from just $68.9 million in the 2006 cycle;
*. Nearly half of the money spent ($138.5 million, or 47.1 percent) came from only 10 groups;
* Groups that did not provide any information about their sources of money collectively spent $135.6 million, 46.1 percent of the total spent by outside groups;
* Two “Crossroads” groups formed by Republican strategist Karl Rove combined to spend $38.2 million, more than any single group. Next was the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at $31.2 million;
* In 75 contested congressional races in which power changed hands, spending by outside groups favored the winning candidate in 60 contests. click to say no to corporate personhood
Because of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United, changing this picture now requires amending the U.S. Constitution. If passed, HJR 9 will make Iowa one of the first states in the nation to call on Congress to call a convention or offer its own amendment to the Bill or Rights that would allow the federal or state government to again pass laws to prohibit or regulate political spending by corporations.
Public opinion on the issue is strong. In a Washington Post poll conducted after the Supreme Court decision, 80 percent of respondents said they opposed the high court's decision to allow unfettered corporate political spending, [italics BFIA's] with 65 percent “strongly” opposed. Nearly as many backed congressional action to curb the ruling, with 72 percent in favor of reinstating limits.
The poll showed little difference of opinion on the issue among Democrats (85 percent opposed to the ruling), Republicans (76 percent) and independents (81 percent).
“The 2010 campaigns proved that the public’s fears are well-founded,” Isenhart said. “I knocked on some 6,000 doors in the last election cycle. This topic came up more often than any other. And it’s the only topic about which my constituents and I always agreed: there is too much money in politics.
“If there’s one idea that drives cynicism among voters more than any others, it’s the idea that their votes don’t count, that we pay attention to the money, we don’t pay attention to people or to good ideas,” Isenhart continued. “That won’t change as long as the lobbyists who visit us have the power of the purse to destroy us at the polls if they don’t get their way.”