Will a Supreme Court decision change elections?
As the nation battles a stubborn unemployment rate, and Americans become increasingly tired of political gridlock, many voters are looking to the upcoming election as an opportunity to voice their opinions. But the direction of many elections is influenced by the amount of financial support each candidate attains. As a candidate, it is a lot easier to get your message across to voters when you have money to fund campaign ads, mailers and other promotional materials. This is why the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission case has garnered so much attention from politicians and voters alike in the last year.
The U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling in the Citizens United case, which came down in January 2010, determined that the political speech of corporations and unions was protected under the First Amendment. The decision also meant that the government could not impose caps on how much money a business or union could spend in support of a political candidate or party.
But J. William Eshelman, a partner at Butzel Long Tighe Patton, PLLC and a University of Phoenix instructor and area chair of Law and Ethics in the School of Business, argues that Citizens United was “primarily a civil rights case” that will have little impact on how the game of politics is played.
“I don't see there being any significant impact," said Eshelman. “As Justice Brandeis said, ‘The remedy for free speech is more free speech.’ And we're seeing that unions are able to advocate rather actively for their view, which is presumably contrary to the views of corporate interests … which would be that view supported presumably by corporations, so I don't see it as a problem. I see it as a windfall for media because both of these entities will be buying a lot of media to get their message out.”
Although the Citizens United decision gives both parties the ability to spend money, many political experts say the ruling's impact is not as equitable as it appears.
“In theory, Citizens United does put unions and corporations legally in the same place ... So I think theoretically you could make that argument, but if you look at it practically, unions can't hold a candle to the amount of money that corporations have,” said Craig Dicker, a former co-director of the Civics and Government Institute at Montclair High School, a magnet school in Montclair, N.J., and a University of Phoenix instructor in the College of Humanities and Sciences and the College of Education. “And certainly there are corporations that fall throughout the spectrum, while unions tend to fall center left, but I don't think it is a level playing field at all because unions do not have the resources that corporations do. Maybe if you were talking 50 years ago when unions were much stronger, but that's certainly not the case anymore.”