States come out against Citizens United ruling

States showed opposition to the ruling in the first presidential election since the high court’s decision.

Brian Arola

In the first presidential election since the Supreme Court ruled to lift restrictions on campaign contributions from corporations and unions, two states showed their opposition to the decision.

Montana and Colorado voters rejected the Supreme Court’s decision on Citizens United v. FEC, with 75 percent and 74 percent of the state’s citizens voting against it, respectively.

Although the results have no effect, both ballots demonstrate a growing disdain of the 2010 high court ruling.

In May, Minnesota was one of 22 states that backed Montana in its fight against the Supreme Court decision striking down its state laws restricting corporate campaign spending, according to the Associated Press.

The opposition to the ruling comes in an election season that saw independent groups spend more than $1.3 billion to try to influence outcomes, according to the Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group — a Washington, D.C.-based government transparency organization.

Conservative groups spent the majority of the money, but it didn’t translate to overall success. The Republican Party lost seats in the House and Senate and lost the presidential race.

“If I were a billionare donor, I would be thinking ‘Did I spend this money wisely?,’” said Len Biernat, a law professor at Hamline University.

Despite money seeming to have little effect this time around, Biernat said he’s still surprised at the Supreme Court’s decision.

“The claim that they’re strictly construing the Constitution to say corporations have First Amendment rights, and to undo nearly 100 years of congressional laws, is just astounding,” he said.

Biernat, a former Democratic-Farmer-Labor member of the Minnesota House, said he’s in favor of public funding for campaigns.

Another in favor of public funding for campaigns is Minnesota’s newest representative to the U.S. House, Rick Nolan.

“I’ve made it real clear that I want to see the Citizens United decision reversed,” Nolan said.

Nolan unseated Chip Cravaack for Minnesota’s 8th District, and his experience in politics — he was a congressman 30 years ago — is from a time long before Citizens United.

Both Nolan and Biernat said the ideal fundraising system is a far cry from the current one.

“[Ideally] it would be a lot more public funding and going back to a system where every donor would be identified,” Biernat said. “And you’d also limit the size of contributions.”

Nolan also said he’d like to see limits put on the time candidates can spend campaigning.

“Candidates are spending all their time raising money and campaigning, and nobody’s governing,” he said. “That poses a real serious threat to our economy and our future.”

Nolan said other democracies in the world put a limit on the times a politician can campaign.

Reversing the court’s decision would be difficult, but there does seem to be a public consensus in favor of it.

According to a Brennan Center for Justice survey released in April, 69 percent of respondents agreed that “new rules that let corporations, unions and people give unlimited money to Super PACs will lead to corruption.”

Only 15 percent of respondents disagreed.

A change in the makeup of the Supreme Court would be one way to reverse the decision, but Biernat said that looks unlikely to happen.

Third-party presidential candidates stood on common ground in their opposition to excessive campaign funding this election with many even refusing contributions in excess of $100.

Rocky Anderson, the former Salt Lake City mayor, said Citizens United has led to corporate interests controlling the two major political parties.