Citizens United—Legalizing the Wholesale Purchase of America's Elected Officials
By Riki Ott
In January 2010, five U.S. Supreme Court justices legalized the wholesale purchase of America’s elected officials. In its landmark decision, Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, the court’s majority ruled that corporations, as persons, have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited amounts of money, as speech, on campaign advertisements as long as those communications are not formally coordinated with any candidate. In Chief Justice Roberts’s court, at least, political expenditures by corporations “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”
Here in the real world, when someone—or some “thing,” in the case of a corporation—has piles of money, that person or thing can purchase more “speech.” The unequal distribution of the power to speak can then lead to an out-of-balance political system in which a few actors wield disproportionate influence, a situation that undermines the ideal of one-person one-vote.
Recognizing this, 22 states had laws on the books that put limits on political donations. Sixty years of precedent in federal law also restricted corporate campaign expenditures. Roberts’s court found such restrictions unconstitutional and overturned those commonsense protections. In a single ruling, political corruption was legalized.
Then the courts decriminalized the laundering of political money. In March 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia applied Citizens United in SpeechNow.org v. FEC and ruled that an organization formed to accept contributions and make “independent” expenditures must register as a Political Action Committee, or PAC. However, unlike traditional PACs, the new “independent-expenditures” only PACs could accept unlimited contributions from individuals as well as corporations and unions. Even more worrisome, the new breed of PACs—or “Super PACs,” as they’ve come to be known—do not have to disclose the names of their donors. A political attack ad can now appear on television with no one knowing who paid for it.
Since those rulings, Super PACs and their affiliated nonprofit organizations have unleashed a flood of dollars into the political ecosystem. In the 2012 election season, spending through July by these mutant PACs was $181 million. If the early trends in Super PAC expenditures for the 2012 campaign continue, the presidency—as well as many other “publicly elected” representatives—will be bought by a handful of oligarchs and corporations whose identity is shielded from public scrutiny. As Rick Hasen, a University of California-Irvine expert in election law, puts it: “Super PACs are for the 1 percent.”
Despite the impression given by pundits on cable television and talk radio, politics is not a game. It’s how we collectively decide our national priorities, and it affects real people in real ways. When an elected body is considering rules about, say, how and whether mines can discharge wastewater into local streams, the outcome doesn’t just affect which political party wins and which loses. It also affects people’s lives. If a mining corporation has a bigger say in the decision than the mine’s neighbors, it violates the principle of fairness that underlies a deliberative democracy.
That scenario isn’t a hypothetical. A century ago, Montana passed its Corrupt Practices Act to limit financial contributions to political candidates, a reaction to the corrosive effects of the state’s mining barons on its electoral system. In June, the Supreme Court—voting along the same lines as the original Citizens United decision—struck down the Montana law.
The courts’ attacks on campaign finance regulations have become a catalyst for Americans to engage in a national dialogue about who rules—corporations or persons. The prospect of so-called “dark money” overwhelming our democratic process has forced citizens to confront the degree to which corporations control our politics and, by extension, our government and us. Bankrupted by the housing crisis, disgusted by the bank bailouts, and anxious about a political system that is increasingly unresponsive to their needs, many Americans have come to the conclusion that it’s time to reclaim our democracy for real, flesh-and-blood people.
The clearest expression of this new populist movement occurred last fall, when thousands of disenfranchised people occupied public spaces and began imagining how it would look to elevate human rights above corporate rights. The physical camps of the Occupy movement have since disbanded. But the resolve remains and the work continues in what Eleanor Roosevelt called the “small places, close to home.” Among the most inspiring efforts is a national grassroots campaign to amend the constitution and overturn the Citizens United decision.
Citizens have amended the constitution seven times in U.S. history to override Supreme Court decisions—including the amendments to give black men the vote, to give women the vote, to abolish poll taxes, and to expand the franchise to 18-year-olds. Amending the constitution is a Herculean task that requires a broad-based movement with a shared vision, coordinated strategy, and sustained passion and patience. But as Jamie Raskin, a Maryland state senator and a senior fellow at People for the American Way, has observed: “A constitutional amendment always seems impossible—until it becomes inevitable.”
The signs of this nascent amendment movement are encouraging. In June, the U.S. Conference of Mayors unanimously adopted a resolution stating, “corporations should not receive the same legal rights as individual human beings” and calling for urgent action to reverse Citizens United. The conference president is Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, the first major city to pass an anti-Citizens United resolution, in December 2011. The Los Angeles City Council acted at the urging of the local chapter of Move to Amend, a national grassroots coalition that has chapters in 29 states and includes hundreds of public interest groups. On a separate but similar track, more than 200 towns and cities across the country have passed ordinances or resolutions declaring that corporations are not considered persons within their jurisdictions.
Grassroots pressure from Move to Amend chapters has also emboldened five states—Hawai‘i, New Mexico, Vermont, Rhode Island and California—to pass resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United. In the nation’s capital, various U.S. Senators and Representatives have introduced six separate constitutional amendments that would address the problems of Citizens United. Although all the amendments return to the state and federal governments the power to restrict campaign contributions, only one—from Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont—tackles the issue of corporate personhood.
Meanwhile, the group Common Cause has launched a campaign to put “voter instruction” initiatives on the November ballot in as many states as possible. If approved, the initiatives would instruct Congress to adopt a constitutional amendment making it clear that corporations are not people and money is not speech. While voter instructions are non-binding, they carry great weight and were used to pass the Seventeenth Amendment, which allowed voters to directly elect senators to Congress.
The American public is overwhelmingly opposed to the Citizens United decision. When the American Sustainable Business Council, Main Street Alliance and Small Business Majority polled their members, they found two-thirds of business owners saw the Citizens United as bad for small business. According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted in 2010, 80 percent of Americans oppose the ruling, including 65 percent who “strongly” oppose it. A 2011 survey by Hart Research Associates found that 82 percent of voters believe Congress should limit the amount of money corporations can spent on elections.
Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens anticipated this rejection when he wrote in his impassioned Citizens United dissent: “At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.”
The reaction to Citizens United isn’t just about remedying a single court decision. It’s also about creating a democracy rooted in human rights—the kind of democracy we’ve never truly had. Amending the U.S. Constitution to affirm that people, not corporations, rule is just the latest evolution of the unceasing effort to form a more perfect union.
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By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.
1. Fragrance – Avoid It<p>One of the fastest ways to narrow down your product options is immediately eliminating any product that promotes a fragrance, or parfum. That scent of "fresh breeze" or lemon might initially smell good, but the fragrance does not last. What does last? The concoction of various undisclosed and unregulated chemicals that created that fragrance.</p><p>Many fragrances contain phthalates, which are linked to many health risks including reproductive problems and cancer.</p>
2. With Bleach? Do Without<p>Going scent-free should have narrowed down your options substantially – now, check the front of the remaining packaging. Any that include ammonia or chlorine bleach ought to go, as these substances are irritating and corrosive to your body. While bleach is commonly known as a powerful disinfectant, there are safer alternatives that you can use in your home, such as sodium borate or hydrogen peroxide.</p><p>While you're at it, check if there are any warnings on the label – "flammable," "use in ventilated area," etc. – if the product is hazardous, that's a red flag and should be avoided.</p>
3. Check the Back Label<p>Flip to the back of the remaining contenders and check out that ingredient list. Less is more, here. Opt for a shorter ingredient list with words you recognize and/or can pronounce.</p><p>You may notice many products do not have ingredient lists – while this doesn't necessarily mean they contain toxic ingredients, transparency is key. Feel free to look up a list online, or stick to products that are open about their ingredients.</p>
4. Ingredients to Avoid<p>We already mentioned that cleaners containing fragrance or parfum, and bleach or ammonia should be avoided, but there are other ingredients to look out for as well.</p><ul><li>Quaternary ammonium "quats" – lung irritants that contribute to asthma and other breathing problems. Also linger on surfaces long after they've been cleaned.</li><li>Parabens – Known hormone disruptor; can contribute to ailments such as cancer</li><li>Triclosan – triclosan and other antibacterial chemicals are registered with the EPA as pesticides. Triclosan is a known hormone disruptor and can also impact your immune system.</li><li>Formaldehyde – Causes irritation of eyes, nose, and throat; studies suggest formaldehyde exposure is linked with certain varieties of cancer. Can be found in products or become a byproduct of chemical reactions in the air.</li></ul>
Cleaning Products and Toxics: The Bottom Line<p>Do your research. There are many cleaning products available, but taking these steps will drastically reduce your options and help keep your home toxic-free. Protecting your home from bacteria and viruses is important, but make sure you do so in a way that doesn't introduce other health risks into the home.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.ehn.org/how-to-shop-for-cleaning-products-while-avoiding-toxics-2648130273.html" target="_blank">Environmental Health News</a>. </em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649054624#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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Twenty-five years ago, a food called Tofurky made its debut on grocery store shelves. Since then, the tofu-based roast has become a beloved part of many vegetarians' holiday feasts.
By Jessica Corbett
A leading environmental advocacy group marked Native American Heritage Month on Wednesday by urging President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Kamala Harris, and the entire incoming administration "to honor Indigenous sovereignty and immediately halt the Keystone XL, Dakota Access, and Line 3 pipelines."
- Climate Crisis: What We Can Learn From Indigenous Traditions ... ›
- 10 Organizations Honoring Native People on Thanksgiving ... ›
- Biden Vows to Ax Keystone XL if Elected - EcoWatch ›
Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
By Jake Johnson
Amid reports that oil industry-friendly former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz remains under consideration to return to his old post in the incoming Biden administration, a diverse coalition of environmental groups is mobilizing for an "all-out push" to keep Moniz away from the White House and demand a cabinet willing to boldly confront the corporations responsible for the climate emergency.