By a 5-4 decision, a bitterly divided Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. FEC, rolling back restrictions on how much money corporations can spend to support candidates. "The text and purpose of the First Amendment point in the same direction: Congress may not prohibit political speech, even if the speaker is a corporation or union," said Chief Justice John Roberts.
However, the first amendment - "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." - says nothing about how much money can or cannot be spent to make ones voice heard.
This ruling protects the free speech of those who have money. According to Senator Mitch McConnell (R): "With today's monumental decision, the Supreme Court took an important step in the direction of restoring the First Amendment rights of these groups by ruling that the Constitution protects their right to express themselves about political candidates and issues up until Election Day."
But what about the freedom of speech rights of poor Americans - those citizens who lack money for ad campaigns and campaign contributions? They will not be heard. This ruling will unleash a torrent of attack ads in upcoming elections. Corporations, unions, and others with money will have increased power to influence government decisions.
Freedom of speech and the right to dissent are cornerstones of our democracy. However, bribery is not free speech. Even before this decision, the voices of regular Americans are being drowned out by lobbyists. In Washington, there are more than 60 lobbyists for every member of Congress. We accuse other nations of corruption and bribery, but we have simply legalized it and called it lobbying.
This ruling ensures that the voices of Americans without money will be silenced by the ad campaigns and contributions of those who do. In the words of Senator Patrick Leahy (D): "There is clear reason for ordinary citizens to be concerned that this divisive ruling will, in reality, allow powerful corporations to drown out the voices of everyday Americans in future campaigns. This ruling is no doubt yet another victory for Wall Street at the expense of Main Street America."
Justice John Paul Stevens stated in the dissent. "The court's ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions around the nation." Robert Weissman, president Public Citizen (a consumer advocacy group), stated: "Today's decision so imperils our democratic well-being, and so severely distorts the rightful purpose of the First Amendment, that a constitutional corrective is demanded."
President Obama called on Congress to respond to this decision. "With its ruling today, the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics. It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans. ... We are going to talk with bipartisan congressional leaders to develop a forceful response to this decision."