With (Citizens) United We May All Fall

This op-ed was published in the Lawrence County Advocate on Wednesday, March 26, 2014.

In writing a column to appeal to Lawrence Countians, sometimes my political interests at large must be toned down, or so says my editor. Since the Supreme Court issued a decision in a constitutional law case referred to as Citizens United in January 2010, I have chafed at the threat to our democracy, but I have wondered how to appeal to citizens here.

Most of you may not have heard of this particular decision. Some may have heard the context but did not catch the name. Essentially, Citizens United changed the way money can be spent on elections and by whom. It tossed out the corporate and union ban on making independent expenditures and financing electioneering communications like movies or other entertainment geared to move public sentiment in a given direction. In other words, it gave corporations and unions a green light to spend countless sums to influence elections.

The Supreme Court ruled that corporations and unions are for purposes of the First Amendment, like people (with the right to political expression) and are now permitted to raise funds and contribute to political candidates’ super Political Action Committees (PACs), though the money must not be given to candidates directly. Super PACS accept unlimited donations from unions, billionaires, and corporations and use it to fund advertising campaigns for or against particular candidates.

Super PACs are required to report who their donors are, but nonprofits, like business leagues, are not. Most of the time this information is obscure and difficult to obtain for the average American citizen even if it is reported.

Imagine this: groups of outside people want to help candidates for school boards who share their views on school testing and accountability. They form a super PAC and collect countless sums, essentially changing the outcome of local elections due to their greater advertising dollars. The folks behind the money don’t necessarily live in the state; they are willing to go to any state to get their agendas across. This scenario has happened in other states; it could easily happen in Lawrence County, Tennessee.

Recently, the Volkswagen manufacturing plant in Chattanooga made political news when the United Auto Workers (UAW) lost their bid to unionize the workers when there were not enough votes to carry the effort. Many were surprised, not the least of whom the UAW. Rest assured they will have their proverbial ducks in a row before the next go ‘round. All they have to do is locate political candidates favorable to union concerns and use their money to influence the outcome of elections. All perfectly legal.

Corporations and unions should not have the same rights to political expression as individuals, no matter what the Supreme Court rules. The justices have, in effect, perpetrated a drastic assault on American democracy. No one should be able to buy elections and thereby buy influence, but it is now happening all around the country, shamelessly, with both parties’ hands in the till.

Super PACS are throwing their weight behind national, state, and local candidates and causes to influence elections. This should be appalling and downright scary to Americans who treasure the right to vote for chosen candidates, those people we put stock in and believe in and whom we want to represent our interests. Stand up and make your voices heard. It is time for the people of this country to push the Supreme Court to overturn Citizens United. Our democracy is at stake. 

 Emily Weathers Kennedy is a freelance writer, blogger, artist, photo stylist, and decorator. Her work is online and in product catalogs and her award winning kitchen design was featured in the September 2008 issue of Better Homes & Gardens. Emily lives with her husband, 3 dogs, and 2 cats and writes from their farm in Loretto, where she was born and raised.


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