Vote ‘yes’ on Initiative 735
Washington voters should vote “yes” on Initiative 735.
With I-735, Washington seeks to become the 18th state to officially urge its congressional delegation to propose a constitutional amendment clarifying that constitutional rights belong only to individuals, excluding political spending from constitutionally protected free speech. California and New York will also be considering similar referendums.
The measure is supported by Gov. Jay Inslee, U.S. Senator Patty Murray and six Washington U.S. representatives.
In 2008, the Citizens United Political Action Committee (PAC), long bolstered by the wealthy Koch brothers, sued the Federal Election Commission over the right to advertise a video-on-demand that criticized Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. The case eventually made its way all the way to the Supreme Court. In Citizens United vs. FEC, the Supreme Court ruled that political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment — the government may not prohibit or limit the speech of corporations and labor unions.
Essentially, corporations are entitled to the same constitutional right to free speech as American citizens and may exercise those rights in the form of unlimited, anonymous campaign donations.
Disgust with the court’s decision crosses party lines; a Bloomberg poll from last year indicated that 80 percent of Republicans and 83 percent of Democrats believe the decision should be overturned. Even President Obama denounced the ruling for “undermining the influence of average Americans.”
The passing of I-735 would push for overturning the Citizens United decision, returning the power to regulate political contributions to prevent undue influence to the government, a precedent it enjoyed for a century prior to Citizens United.
The effects of unlimited campaign donations are felt at every level of the political process. In a speech quoted by Ballotpedia, Jim Street, a former Seattle City Council member and Superior Court judge, points out that in swing districts such as south King County “independent political action committees spent $1,230,000” earlier this year, and “in the 2015 Seattle City Council elections, $790,210 was spent by independent PAC … this compares to $0 four years ago.”
The Supreme Court ruled in Reynolds vs. Sims that the “Constitution demands” each citizen have “an equally effective voice” in elections, concluding that electoral districts must be drawn with equitable populations. Yet, Citizens United has enshrined as constitutional the existence of enormously unequal voices in the political process.
With the backing of the Supreme Court, corporations and super PACs now have the ability to effectively drown out the voices of the average concerned citizen. The more money that is allowed in campaigns, the less coherent and productive political discourse becomes.
Frustration with the amount of money in politics crosses state and party lines. Perhaps that is because the effects of the decision are so obvious. Perhaps citizens’ ire is provoked by The New York Times projection that campaign spending will exceed $7 billion in a presidential race that has frequently featured clashes over a $5 increase in the federal minimum wage. According to WAmend.org, campaign spending increased 555 percent from 1984 to 2014 — perhaps some voters cannot believe that they are fondly remembering Reagan’s campaign tactics as a model of temperance and civility.
Vote “yes” on I-735 to get big money out of elections. Vote “yes” to take a stand against corruption and the anti-competitive elevation of corporations above small businesses. Vote “yes” on I-735 because the Constitution was written to protect the rights of the citizenry, not corporations.
Most importantly, vote “yes” on I-735 because the value of your vote is being eroded, and for now, you have the power to do something about it.
Compiled by Eleanor Lyon, Contributor
Vote ‘no’ on Initiative 735
This November, Washington residents of legal voting age will have the opportunity to vote on I-735, a resolution that contains legislation that would “overturn decisions by the Supreme Court of the United States extending constitutional rights to corporations and other artificial legal entities, as well as those decisions equating the spending of money with free speech.” This legislation is a direct response to Citizens United v. FEC of 2010, which eliminated restriction on political expenditures by corporations and unions. Passed 5-4 by the Supreme Court, it is one of the most controversial contemporary Supreme Court rulings.
The debate between Citizens United and I-735 is not new to American politics: In 1947, the Taft-Hartley Act was passed by anti-union Republicans with the intent of barring unions and corporations from making independent expenditures in support of or in opposition to federal candidates. The moderate President Harry Truman vetoed the law, claiming that it was a “dangerous intrusion on free speech.”
The application of free speech in Citizens United and I-735 is one of the most essential arguments of opposition, citing an unequal nature of money and speech. This is founded upon the belief that political expenditures are not in nature a form of “speech” and thus should not qualify for protection under the first amendment.
The fact of the matter is that money carries significant influence in American and greater Western society, and the act of spending money is a very real form of speech. The political, ethical and social value of an organization can be measured through public economic support, and thus, monetary support represents an individual’s support. For example, those who donate to various nonprofits express value judgments on such organizations through their monetary donations.
The same can be said of political parties, organizations and representatives: The money raised to support them is reflective of an individual’s value judgment actualized through fiscal support and is comparable to individual citizens making personal donations to campaigns.
Another argument in favor of the initiative is that corporations should not be recognized as individuals in a way that grants them the liberties of American citizenry. Upon further examination, it is obvious to see that the United States government has a history of valuing the rights of groups and associations. Coalitions of American citizens shouldn’t have to relinquish their fundamental rights simply because of the multitudinous nature of their organizations. The passing of this initiative would also open what critics have called a Pandora’s box on limiting free speech, specifically in relation to nonpolitical organizations.
Another important aspect to consider is the history of the American corporation. The word corporation originates from the Latin word corpus, meaning body or “body of people.” The governmental recognition of corporate entities dates back to sixth-century Rome, and becomes relevant to the American economy in the early 19th century.
In modernity, this has come to fruition in what we know today as joint-stock companies, in which the shareholders are granted partial ownership relative to their shares. This process reveals the potential in which shareholders themselves can affect corporate political finance. Just as an individual can choose what products they purchase based on ethical standards, so too can shareholders in a way that can influence corporations through much more effective means than through legislation that affects precedents surrounding free speech.
An unsettling feature of the American political system is the sway of wealthy individuals upon elections and the legislative policy. Unfortunately, even the amendment proposed in this initiative would have little effect in reducing their power.
Compiled by Emily Staker, Staff Writer