Widgets Magazine

Feingold criticizes Citizens United case

Calling a Supreme Court decision “lawless” and warning of “corporate domination of our political process,” former Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) spoke Monday night about the dangers stemming from the recent removal of restrictions on financial contributions to political groups.


Feingold spoke out against the Jan. 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, arguing that it opened the door to increased corporate influence in politics.


“The decision issued by the court’s majority was essentially a lawless decision,” Feingold said, “not only because the substance of it gave corporations free reign over our political process — which is so fundamental to our democracy — but also because of its blatant disregard for the mores and traditions of the Supreme Court in handling difficult cases.”

Former Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) warned of increasing corporate influence in the U.S. political process. (MEHMET INONU/ The Stanford Daily)


The 5-4 ruling lifted prior restrictions on corporate contributions to political groups. This includes donations to political action committees (PACs), which — though not directly associated with candidates or campaigns — can channel vast sums to political causes.


Feingold said that Americans must choose between a political system controlled by large corporations and one that has fair campaign finance regulations.


“The first path marks the beginning of the destruction of our campaign finance system and essentially permits corporate domination of our political process,” he said. “This dominance will include our most fundamental institutions: those that govern us, those that write and enforce our laws and regulations, those that oversee our economy and those that determine our relations with other countries, even our national security.”


Feingold identified the rise in the 1990s of “soft money” — the circumvention of limits on donations to candidates’ campaigns by donating large sums to issue-driven campaigns — as a critical juncture in campaign financing. He argued that laxer campaign finance regulations stem from changes in the electorate’s political involvement.


“Corporate-funded, right-leaning elements in this country were rocked by the power of the Internet and by mass personal involvement by average citizens,” he said. “The corporate powers in this country that want to dominate our political process saw the face of democracy and it terrified them.


“They were scared stiff that we had stopped the soft money flow, the leverage on which they relied to get both Republicans and, I’m sorry to say, too many Democrats, to ratify job-killing trade agreements, enact the Wall Street wish list of financial deregulations and pass the most fiscally irresponsible tax and budget policies in our lifetime,” Feingold added.


In response to the idea that in an age of super PACs candidates must join the fundraising race to effectively compete, Feingold urged the audience to consider the consequences of the concept. He stated his opposition to President Barack Obama’s decision to allow Cabinet members to fundraise for Priorities USA Action, a pro-Obama PAC.


“Think about what you’re doing,” Feingold argued. “Think about what you’re becoming. What’s the end if it’s going to be gazillionaires dominating the entire process?”


Audience members reflected on both Feingold’s message and candor.


“The fact that he’s no longer a senator allowed him to say a lot of things he wouldn’t regularly say,” said Tomer Perry, a graduate student in political science. “He was very critical of the Democrat and Republican parties, which is important.”


“I’m very concerned about the ongoing and strengthening movement of corporate personhood,” said Dave Mitchell ‘09.


Feingold will participate in a seminar today from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. in Tresidder Union. Joining him will be Joshua Cohen, Marta Sutton Weeks professor of ethics in society, and Stephen Ansolabehere, Harvard professor of government.

  • Anonymous

    “Feingold spoke out against the Jan. 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, arguing that it opened the door to increased corporate influence in politics.”

    The following is my reply to the excerpt from the article above:

    The door was thrown wide open in 1974 when the corporate media were exempted from campaign laws. If Super PACs want to circumvent campaign laws they should incorporate as news outlets.

    Congress amended FECA in 1974 to set limits on contributions by individuals, political parties and PACs.

    However, they exempted the corporate media and created the State approved press:
    2 USC 431 (9) (B) (i) The term “expenditure” does not include any news story, commentary, or editorial distributed through the facilities of any broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication, unless such facilities are owned or controlled by any political party, political committee, or candidate;

    But there is little difference between slanted news stories, editorial opinions and political ads? The press exemption is a restriction on participation by 99.9999% of the population and grants .0001% of the population immunity from campaign laws. ? I challenge the broadcast talking heads and print journalists to explain why their audiences should not enjoy the same exemption?

    Lovell v. City of Griffin SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES 303 U.S. 444 Argued February 4, 1938 Decided March 28, 1938

    The liberty of the press is not confined to newspapers and periodicals. It necessarily embraces pamphlets and leaflets. These indeed have been historic weapons in the defense of liberty, as the pamphlets of Thomas Paine and others in our own history abundantly attest. The press in its historic connotation comprehends every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion. What we have had recent occasion to say with respect to the vital importance of protecting this essential liberty from every sort of infringement need not be repeated. Near v. Minnesota, supra; Grosjean v. American Press Co., supra; De Jonge v. Oregon, supra.[note 2]

    Whatever differences may exist about interpretations of the First Amendment, there is practically universal agreement that a major purpose of that Amendment was to protect the free discussion of governmental affairs. This of course includes discussions of candidates, structures and forms of government, the manner in which government is operated or should be operated, and all such [384 U.S. 214, 219] matters relating to political processes. The Constitution specifically selected the press, which includes not only newspapers, books, and magazines, but also humble leaflets and circulars, see Lovell v. Griffin, 303 U.S. 444 , to play an important role in the discussion of public affairs.

    The NRA bought a radio station. But should citizens have to buy a radio station to speak or a newspaper to print their views? To restore equal protection under law the press exemption must be extended to citizens and groups!

  • Anonymous

    ““Corporate-funded, right-leaning elements in this country were rocked by the power of the Internet and by mass personal involvement by average citizens,” he said. “The corporate powers in this country that want to dominate our political process saw the face of democracy and it terrified them.”

    In reply to the exceprt from the article above:

    Does the former Senator remember the firestorm of disapproval by the American people when the FEC was instructed to apply his beloved Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act to the web. American cyber citizens revolted.

    On March 17th Senator Harry Reid (D) of Nevada introduced a bill, S 678 IS, to exempt Internet communications from campaign finance laws. The bill reads: Paragraph (22) of section 301 of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (2 U.S.C. 431(22)) is amended by adding at the end of the following new sentence: “Such term shall not include communications over the Internet.” Senate bill S.678 is now bi-partisan: Senator Tom Coburn (R) of Oklahoma is co-sponsoring. Email your senators, http://www.senate.gov/ and ask them to sign on to the above bill.

  • Anonymous

    “The 20th century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy; the growth of corporate power; and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.” -Alex Carey, Australian social scientist who pioneered the investigation of corporate propaganda (see Taking the Risk Out Of Democracy, Univ of New South Wales, 1995)

    A newspaper must at all times antagonize the selfish interests of that very class which furnishes the larger part of a newspaper’s income… The press in this country is dominated by the wealthy few…that it cannot be depended upon to give the great mass of the people that correct information concerning political, economical and social subjects which it is necessary that the mass of people Shall have in order that they vote…in the best way to protect themselves from the brutal force and chicanery of the ruling and employing classes. (E.W. Scripps).

    It is normal for all large businesses to make serious efforts to influence the news, to avoid embarrassing publicity, and to maximize sympathetic public opinion and government policies. Now they own most of the news media that they wish to influence. – Excerpt from The Media Monopoly by Ben H. Bagdikian

    “Section 431(9)(B)(i) makes a distinction where there is no real difference: the media is extremely powerful by any measure, a “special interest” by any definition, and heavily engaged in the “issue advocacy” and “independent expenditure” realms of political persuasion that most editorial boards find so objectionable when anyone other than a media outlet engages in it. To illustrate the absurdity of this special exemption the media enjoys, I frequently cite as an example the fact that if the RNC bought NBC from GE the FEC would regulate the evening news and, under the McCain-Feingold “reform” bill, Tom Brokaw could not mention a candidate 60 days before an election. This is patently absurd.” – Senator McConnell