Citizens United: Time for Outrage

The internet is filled with calls for outrage, and I hesitate to add one more. But the outrage over the Supreme Court'sCitizens United decision has been slowly simmering for months, and it's time for it to boil over. The cauldronhit a rolling boil when Newt Gingrich'scampaign wasfunded almost entirely by one person "not coordinating" with the campaign.For some in our country, the cauldron's lid could barely contain our outrage when Stephen Colbert revealed the farcical workingsof super PACs during an extended prophetic satire.[caption id="attachment_19877" align="alignright" width="300" caption=""Houston, we are the .0000063%""]"Houston, we are the .0000063%"[/caption]But the real boil-over has got to be coming soon. The reason?Solid statisticsfor campaign contributions have been rolling infor this presidential election, and they are beyond what most of us could have imagined.As Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig has been demonstrating, thenumber of "citizens united" that combined to contribute 80% of these political contributions is statistically infinitesimal: 196 people, or .0000063% of American citizens. In other words, the primary vehicle of contemporary American campaigning is funded by about the same number of people that have been to the international space station.Former senator Russ Feingold recently offered a round-up of criticism of Citizens United in the Stanford Law Review, where he noted that, finally:

The public is noticing. A recent poll conducted jointly between the Washington Post and ABC News found a staggering reality: nearly seven in ten registered voters believe that super PACs, the prominent vehicle used to channel unlimited funds into our elections, should be illegal.

Yet Feingold's piece was written just before the Supreme Court's June decision to reject Montana's challenge to Citizens United. It seems then, that the power to overturn this fundamental threat to democracy -- yes, that's classic outrage language! -- lies only with the people and our legislative branch.Amid our outrage, Justice Stevens's dissent is worth rehearsing over and over.A frequently quoted portion:

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.

Amen! Let's rally the 99.9999937% !!!

Michael Peppard is associate professor of theology at Fordham University and on the staff of its Curran Center for American Catholic Studies. He is the author of The World's Oldest Church and The Son of God in the Roman World, and on Twitter @MichaelPeppard. He is a contributing editor to Commonweal.

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