, Newburyport, MA

November 7, 2012

Citizens United must be overturned

Newburyport Daily News

---- — To the editor:

Since 2010, when five justices of the Supreme Court ruled on the ironically named Citizens United case, political campaigns have been dominated by anonymous cash, specious claims, outright lies and negative advertising.

In that case, five voters concluded essentially that corporations were people and that money was free speech and could not be limited when it came to campaign spending. What? At that point corporations and unions were entitled to spend unlimited amounts on political campaigns and far worse, permitted to keep their donors secret. Go find that in the First Amendment. This ruling overturned a reasonable legislative attempt to make elections somewhat transparent known as McCain-Feingold, one of those old-fashioned bipartisan laws.

The corrosive effects are everywhere in this election season. How many anonymous ads have you seen without a real “person” saying, “I approve this message”? They represent anonymous, wealthy, legally untraceable donors, enabled by the Citizens United ruling. How many calls have you received at home from Crossroads GPS and similar super PACs? Blame five Supreme Court justices.

Corporations are not people. They are legal entities constructed in part to shield owners from individual accountability. That entity has its place in our legal system. Their primary purpose is to make money, period. To attribute to that entity the full rights of citizenship, without individual responsibility, is simply wrong. Unlimited, secret political contributions are corrupting our democratic processes.

The irony is a billionaire can fund a super PAC, give unlimited amounts to influence an election, claim what they please and remain behind a legal shroud of secrecy, while an individual citizen such as you or me cannot have a letter published in The Daily News without a signature and address. Either The Daily News is putting on airs or our democratic system is badly broken. Knowing who is making claims is a critical filter we all use when judging the perspective and credibility of the speaker. When the speaker hides behind anonymity, they are doing it for a reason. They want to avoid responsibility.

We can see that money is not free speech. It’s a speech amplifier, a megaphone, available as a weapon to only a few. It has the ability to dominate and drown out individual voices and opinions, the foundation of democracy.

Citizens United needs to be overturned. That can be done by a constitutional amendment or eventual replacement of Supreme Court justices.

Andrew Shirshac