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What the Fuck is Citizens United?
Citizens United vs the Federal Election Commission was a 2010 supreme court case that started over some electioneering shit. Essentially, a non-profit organization, Citizens United, wanted to release a film talking shit on Hillary Clinton within 30 days of the presidential election. Basically, this third party to all political parties and official candidates wanted to spend a bunch of money to convince people not to vote for a candidate.
That spending, my friends, is electioneering, and it is illegal.
Well, it was. I guess.
So, the Federal Election Commission took Citizen United’s ass to the supreme court.
Citizens United was crafty, and said that they had a first amendment right to free speech, and the money they spent was the only way they could exercise free speech as a corporate entity.
The supreme court, like any federal court, has a soft spot for the first amendment. So they decided 5-4, that sure, money is speech. The supreme court decided that, in the words of Wikipedia:
“The First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting political expenditures by corporations and unions.”
Prior to this decision, the first amendment generally only applied to people. Not rocks, or cars, or telephone poles or gymnasiums. Oh, and not corporations or their money.
There was even a Supreme Court decision (McConell vs the FEC) a few years before that, saying that:
“Money is property, not speech. Still, not all political speech is protected by the First Amendment from government infringement.”
But because a corporation, union or other entity is given first amendment rights by the Citizens United decision, some legal magic turned them into people. Corporations are people who cannot speak to us in English, Spanish or any other tongue, but are fluent in the language of MONEY. And how dare we prevent them from getting their conversation on with our politicians?
According to the supreme court, it is due diligence for us to translate for these people.
People generally have a variety of ways to share our voices. We can vote in elections, we can call our senators, send letters to our congresspeople, email our mayors and show up at city council meetings. We can even organize other people to stand up and say we all dislike something together, and big numbers of people make for one powerful voice.
And although I have a voice, you have a voice, and your annoying neighbor has a voice, we as individual people generally do not have the ability to produce a large-budget film. Most of us do not have the ability to gather millions of dollars to make TV spots to get our voices heard on national television. We generally can’t pay, as individual people, for a professional lobbyist to go visit our senator on our behalf.
But one corporation can totally, and perfectly legally, do that sort of thing.
The most ironic thing of all? Citizens United is a conservative organization. Here comes the irony. From their own website (dare not call them an “it” because Citizens United is the first corporate person, right?):
“Citizens United is an organization dedicated to restoring our government to citizens’ control. “
So, you mad yet?
A variety of references for your nerding pleasure: