Commentary: On 10th anniversary, congressman calls for end to ‘Citizens United’

By David N. Cicilline
Posted 1/22/20

Any grade schooler could tell you a dollar bill is not the same thing as a conversation. Or that a big company is not the same thing as a human being.But conservatives on the Supreme Court …

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Commentary: On 10th anniversary, congressman calls for end to ‘Citizens United’

Posted

Any grade schooler could tell you a dollar bill is not the same thing as a conversation. Or that a big company is not the same thing as a human being.
But conservatives on the Supreme Court don’t agree. Ten years ago (January 21, 2010), in the “Citizens United” case, a 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court ruled not only that money is speech, but that corporations are people.
If that doesn’t make sense to you, you’re not alone. It takes a lot of mental gymnastics to be able to say that with a straight face.
The impact of the Court’s ruling, however, is simple and serious. As a result, for ten years corporations have been able to spend unlimited amounts of secret money on political campaigns.
The system was already broken. Citizens United somehow made it much worse.
In the decade that followed, secret spending has taken away power from working people. In their place, lobbyists, special interests, and billionaires have done whatever they want in Washington.
More than $4.4 billion has been spent on federal elections. That’s six times the total amount spent in the 20 years before Citizens United.
What’s worse, almost half of this money is completely untraceable. There’s just no way for anyone to find out which oil company, gun lobbyist, or tax-averse billionaire is paying for the ad on their TV screen.
So what does all this corruption mean for Rhode Islanders? A lot.
In 2019, Democrats took control of the U.S. House for the first time in nearly a decade. We’ve passed more than 400 bills to address urgent issues facing our country. The list includes bills that bring down the cost of prescription drugs, require background checks on gun sales, take on the challenge of climate change, and more.
Eighty percent of these bills have not even gotten a vote in the U.S. Senate because Mitch McConnell won’t allow one. The reason is simple. He wants to maintain a corrupt system that empowers the lobbyists, special interests, and billionaires that pay for his campaigns.
In fact, the very first bill that Democrats passed last year, H.R.1, is the most sweeping ethics and election reform package in a generation. I was proud to co-sponsor and vote for it.
H.R.1 limits the dominance of big money in politics. It expands and protects the right to vote. It ensures that public officials work for the public, not for themselves. It’s a commonsense bill that passed with an overwhelming majority of 234 votes in the House.
Ten months since we passed it, it still hasn’t gotten a vote in the Senate because Mitch McConnell is standing in the way.
With another election just around the corner, we’re about to see even more corporate spending to preserve this corrupt system.
The good news is that it’s going to be the last time it happens. If Democrats take back the Senate and the White House, we will finally be able to pass H.R.1 into law.
Our democracy works best when every voice is heard. That’s why I’m going to keep fighting.
The corporations and billionaires have gotten their way for a decade. It’s time we take back control of our elections and our government for the people.

Mr. Cicilline (D) is the U.S. Congressman for Rhode Island District 1.

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