Use Knox V. SEIU to Attack Money in Politics, Pt. 1

Portland Express Southern Pacific 1917By Josh Sager


Money in Politics

The modern political era has been party to massive regressions in campaign finance law, as well as corresponding increases in political spending by wealthy groups and individuals.

Over the past 40 years, a series of judicial decisions and precedent interpretations have opened the floodgates, allowing a tsunami of money to overtake the political process. This money, originating from corporations, unions, wealthy individuals and advocacy groups, has sculpted the political landscape into one of gridlock and legalized corruption. 

Arguably, the first step in the journey which led to the current political climate was the 1886 Supreme Court decision Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. This case’s decision was a vital prerequisite for the current political climate because it was the seed from which “corporate personhood” grew. The resolution of a tax dispute between the local government of Santa Clara, CA, and the Southern Pacific railroad led to the including of corporations in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

Interpretations of this case led to a granting of some human rights, most importantly the 1st Amendment right to free speech, to American corporations. This decision, while dormant and largely inconsequential in regard to politics for many years, has become the foundation of the argument which allows corporations to spend money in our elections. By giving corporations the human right to free speech, the Supreme Court created a situation where they could not be restricted from “speaking” about political matters. 

In 1976, the Supreme Court decision Buckley V. Valeo redefined monetary donations as just another form of free expression, virtually synonymous with normal speech; while this decision upheld the concept that monetary donations in politics can be limited, its redefinition of money as speech made future regulations of donations very difficult. Due to this decision, donating money became protected speech, and donations to political groups became synonymous with verbal support.

The precedent set by Buckley V. Valeo rendered the Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad interpretation a vital Supreme Court precedent, as their interaction created a situation where corporations had a protected right to spend money in elections.

The now-infamous Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission decision of 2010 was the decision which finally broke the dam holding back money in politics. Before the Citizens United decision, monetary expenditure, while considered speech, was held in check by limits to the monetary amount which can be donated during campaigns; these limits prevented wealthy individuals, as well as non-human collections of wealth (e.g., corporations and unions) from donating unlimited sums of money in support of their political candidates. Citizens United v. FEC rendered limits on campaign spending to be unconstitutional, thus it led to the explosion of money in politics.

A bag of moneyDespite the recent public focus on the judicial mistake know as Citizens United v. FEC, the flood of money into politics was not caused by a single Supreme Court decision; it was brought about through a combination of several decisions, interacting within the law and incrementally increasing the power of money in politics.

The granting of human rights to corporations led to a level playing field between individuals and corporations, essentially granting corporations the rights of humans without the legal liabilities or inconvenience of a conscience. The redefining of monetary donations as speech led to corporations, which were then considered people, being given the right to “speak” with their money up to the very limits of the legal campaign donations.

The proverbial straw which broke the camel’s back in the fight to keep money out of politics was the removal of campaign donation limits; this decision led to a proportional level of power based upon money rather than votes – turning our political system from one where “one person equals one vote” to one where “one dollar equals one vote.”

Recently, several groups have been attacking corporate personhood, the synonymy of money with speech, and unlimited campaign donations in order to return integrity to our political process. As the primary causes of the recent political crisis are interpretations of the Constitution by the Supreme Court, the only remedies to this crisis have become a constitutional amendment or another decision by the Supreme Court superseding their current stance.

Ultimately, as Supreme Court decisions can be changed, the only long-term solution to the problem of money in politics is a constitutional amendment banning money from political campaigns. Despite its ineffectiveness as a long-term fix, a decision by the Supreme Court increasing the difficulty corporations have while donating money to politicians would help stem the flow of money into politics.

I believe that such an opportunity to challenge the current political donation law was opened up by the decision of Knox v. SEIU.

Do you like this post?

Showing 6 reactions

@shaderesource tweeted link to this page. 2012-07-25 11:12:03 -0400
Use Knox V. SEIU to Attack Money in Politics, Pt. 1
@nataliapresent tweeted link to this page. 2012-07-10 16:55:05 -0400
For the policy geeks. RT @wolfpachq: Use Knox V. SEIU to Attack Money in Politics, Pt. 1
@V1ct0rCR0cc0 tweeted link to this page. 2012-07-10 12:40:45 -0400
Use Knox V. SEIU to Attack Money in Politics, Pt. 1
@w00dStok tweeted link to this page. 2012-07-10 12:40:12 -0400
Use Knox V. SEIU to Attack Money in Politics, Pt. 1
@WolfPAChq tweeted link to this page. 2012-07-10 12:35:22 -0400
Use Knox V. SEIU to Attack Money in Politics, Pt. 1
published this page in Blog 2012-07-10 12:34:38 -0400

We need your help,
you can signup with:

Get Involved Anytime:

Our Pack


(@fuuuursure) is following @WolfPAChq on Twitter
(@DaIceCold1) is following @WolfPAChq on Twitter
(@Bogarter) is following @WolfPAChq on Twitter
(@RippedToTheTits) is following @WolfPAChq on Twitter
@_oldturk retweeted @WolfPAChq

View All