Citizens United: An Unprecedented Threat to Reproductive and Sexual Justice
What's the connection between the personhood of a fertilized egg and the personhood of corporations? It's the Citizens United case and it is accelerating the erosion of women's rights.
What’s the connection between the personhood of a fertilized egg and the personhood of corporations?
Both can and will undermine the fundamental rights of women.
On January 21st of this year, perhaps in some cosmically ironic sense a day before the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court handed down a decision on the Citizens United case.
In the 5 to 4 opinion, the Court held that:
Political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, and the government may not keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections. While corporations or unions may not give money directly to campaigns, they may seek to persuade the voting public through other means, including ads, especially where these ads were not broadcast.
Corporations can take money, funnel money, and use money to their political advantage in campaigns for U.S. elected offices and…they do not have to disclose a dime.
Critics have decried the decision as a threat to democracy. Citizens United, according to Michael Waldman, executive director of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, “upended decades of precedent and nearly a century of settled law to hold that corporate campaign spending limits violate the First Amendment.”
Now, during the first election under the decision, Waldman says, “Citizens United has loosed a tide of massive—and alarmingly sneaky—spending. For all the Tea Party hubbub, this election’s major factor could be cold, anonymous cash.”
[M]uch of [that cash comes] through front groups, cutouts, and nonprofits, without disclosing who is paying the bill. Money talks, but refuses to leave its name. Target routed its controversial funding [to an anti-gay group] through the blandly named MN Forward. In West Virginia, mining executives are setting up “527 groups” (which can delay disclosure until after November 2) to help elect coal-friendly candidates. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which does not disclose its backers, has pledged to spend $75 million in the midterm elections.
Moreover, he notes, the anonymous funding vastly favors the GOP. No shocker there.
ThinkProgress recently published several investigative reports on the election activities of the Chamber of Commerce, including its foreign fundraising operation. The first report found that “The Chamber has promised to spend an unprecedented $75 million to defeat candidates like Jack Conway, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Jerry Brown, Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA), and Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA). As of Sept. 15th, the Chamber had aired more than 8,000 ads on behalf of GOP Senate candidates alone, according to a study from the Wesleyan Media Project.”
A subsequent report published this week found that the Chamber has taken in $885,000 from foreign countries and corporations, including 84 foreign companies, the names of the majority of which the Chamber refused to disclose voluntarily. Nonetheless, ThinkProgress put together this list, which includes a large number of companies based in India and Bahrain.
The Chamber’s take from these donors has vastly increased its ability to influence elections. ThinkProgress states:
The Chamber’s spending has dwarfed every other issue group and most political party candidate committee spending. A ThinkProgress investigation has found that the Chamber funds its political attack campaign out of its general account, which solicits foreign funding. And while the Chamber will likely assert it has internal controls, foreign money is fungible, permitting the Chamber to run its unprecedented attack campaign. According to legal experts consulted by ThinkProgress, the Chamber is likely skirting longstanding campaign finance law that bans the involvement of foreign corporations in American elections.
A great deal of this money is being used to support the campaigns of ultra-right, anti-choice candidates who also share an agenda of dismantling health care reform, social security, minimum wage and labor protections, and a range of other laws and social programs aimed at improving the common–not just the corporate–good.
The candidates in the target list above, for example, are all pro-choice and all support minimum wage protections, environmental protection, social security and other programs. Their opponents all share an anti-choice, anti-government, pro-corporation agenda disguised as “personal freedom.”
So, for example, Conway, who is pro-choice, is running against Tea Party candidate Rand Paul, who believes in conferring personhood on fertilized eggs and wants to use the law to declare that “life begins at conception” a “scientific statement.” Paul further supports passage of a Human Life Amendment and a Life at Conception Act as ” federal solutions to the abortion issue.”
Paul’s position would outlaw contraception.
Tea Party candidate and Republican Pat Toomey, who is running against Joe Sestak, is “pro-life” and opposes same-sex marriage. Tonight, the New York Times reports, the National Republican Senatorial Committee is putting additional resources into Toomey’s campaign to defeat Sestak, who is pro-choice. The Times article, by fivethirtyeight.com founder Nate Silver, suggests that even with a tightening race, odds now favor Toomey.
And Periello is running against Virginia State Senator Robert Hurt, who–like the others–believes in the personhood fertilized eggs and wants to and has voted to de-fund Planned Parenthood. He has a 100 percent ranking from Virginia’s Family Foundation, which in addition to the above positions also is seeking to use the law to enforce “life-long” marriage (translation: making it more difficult to get a divorce) and has a fairly radical pro-right agenda. Predictably, Hurt is not only against same-sex marriage, but also civil unions.
Add to the funding of these ultra-right candidates by the Chamber and the National Rebublican Senatorial and Congressional committees the funds being poured by the billionaire Koch Brothers into these and other races, and the degree to which this election is being bought by a select few becomes frighteningly clear. The Koch brothers, as was reported extensively by Jane Mayer in her excellent and chilling article in The New Yorker, are using their vast wealth to fund Tea Party candidates and literally create the “Tea party movement.”
Taken together, these national and foreign corporate interests are funding candidates that support ultra-right wing causes, including their efforts to take away women’s rights–to decide whether, when, with whom and under what conditions to bear a child; to earn fair pay; to secure paid leave; to have access to affordable health care; to environmentally safe and economically viable communities; to a secure future for themselves and their loved ones. They all seek to deny fundamental rights to the GLBT community and to enforce their own religious views on the country, religious views heavily aligned–indeed inseparable from–their economic and social ideologies.
In many ways, the implications for sexual and reproductive justice and reproductive choice in this election could potentially render moot the question of what the Supreme Court does with Roe v. Wade and certainly threatens to forestall progress on a range of social justice goals from the rights of people to marry to meeting the needs of vulnerable citizens.
Based on these realities, it does not take too much of a leap to see that the Citizens United case has profound implications for sexual and reproductive justice for women, and for all people in the United States.