Monday, August 24, 2009

Brief filed in case that may permit direct corporate donations to candidates

Five groups have cited the appropriation of personhood rights by corporations in a brief filed in the U.S. Supreme court in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The groups' brief urges the court to uphold current laws preventing corporations from making direct political contributions in federal elections.

The brief was filed August 1 on behalf of the Clements Foundation, Democracy Unlimited, POCLAD, Shays2, and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, by attorney Jeff Clements, who represented all five organizations.

The brief argues that corporations are legal entities and were not intended to share the same protections as legal persons under the Bill of Rights. It also casts doubt on the validity of personhood rights granted to corporations under the 14th Amendment's due process and equal protection clauses. The groups' conclusion? Democratically enacted regulation of corporate participation in politics do not violate the Constitutional principle of freedom of speech.

Current election regulations draw the line at allowing corporations to cut checks directly to individuals' campaign committees (less direct means of influencing elections are, of course, rampant). However, the court could use Citizens United v. FEC to begin to overturn this ban. Citizens United appealed a previous ruling, based on a 2003 Supreme Court case, Austin and McConnell, which ruled that limits on corporate expenditures in elections did not violate freedom of speech.

According to Democracy Unlimited, "if the Supreme Court overrules Austin and McConnell, First Amendment rights claimed by corporations will be significantly expanded, and local, state, and federal governments will be further restricted in the ability to regulate corporations and corporate influence on our democratic processes."

“The notion that corporations have the same speech rights as people under our Bill of Rights is contrary to the words, history, spirit and intent of our Constitution,” said Clements in a statement issued by Democracy Unlimited. “Corporations do not vote, speak, or act as people do, but are products of government policy to achieve economic and charitable ends. As such, corporations need not be allowed to influence our elections if Congress and State governments judge that such influence is detrimental to democracy.”

The Supreme Court takes up Citizens United V. FEC in September. You can read the brief at

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