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Here’s Some Bipartisanship for You: Citizens are United Against Citizens United

February 17, 2010

The Washington Post reports this morning that, in a recent survey conducted jointly by the Post and ABC News, a “large majority” – 65% of Americans – “strongly” oppose the Supreme Court’s ruling last month in Citizens United v. FEC, in which the Court invalidated a century’s worth of restrictions on corporate expenditures to influence elections.  At the same time, 72% support reintroducing limits on such expenditures.  The Post adds:

The poll reveals relatively little difference of opinion on the issue among Democrats (85 percent opposed to the ruling), Republicans (76 percent) and independents (81 percent)… Indeed, the poll shows remarkably strong agreement about the ruling across all demographic groups, and big majorities of those with household incomes above and below $50,000 alike oppose the decision. Age, race and education levels also appeared to have little relative bearing on the answers.

This is highly significant, because in Washington, the response to the Court’s decision in Citizens United has been bitterly divided. The disagreement has fallen chiefly along party lines, with Democrats, most notably President Obama, expressing outrage at the decision and supporting measures to limit corporate electioneering, and Republicans, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, wildly applauding the ruling (Citizens United is a political action committee formed by David Bossie, an opposition researcher for Republican candidates) and almost uniformly opposing any attempt to fix it.

Such division clearly has not characterized the public’s response to the decision.  The Post-ABC poll is one of only several conducted since the decision came down that consistently reveal an overwhelming majority of Americans oppose the Court’s ruling.  One poll, conducted jointly by Republican and Democratic strategists and sponsored by several groups opposed to the ruling, found that 64% of respondents opposed the decision, while a mere 27% favored it. The pollsters elaborated:

Voters are disgusted with ‘business as usual’ in Washington. There is a deep and pervasive belief, particularly among independents, that special interests are running things and Members of Congress listen more to those that fund their campaigns than the voters that they are supposed to be representing. Three quarters believe that special interests hold too much influence over Washington today while fewer than a quarter believe that ordinary citizens can still influence what happens in politics. Similarly, nearly 80 percent say that Members of Congress are controlled by the groups that help fund their political campaigns while fewer than a fifth believe that Members listen more to the voters.

Yet another poll, conducted by Angus Reid Public Opinion, likewise found that 65% of Americans disagreed with the Court’s ruling, and more than 70% would support regulations on how corporations can spend money on political ads.

Citizens United highlights the divergent views of voters, who decry corporate influence over elections, and leaders in Washington, who maintain a narrow, short-term focus on winning elections at the expense of our Founders’ constitutional vision.  This discontent may help explain why conservatives at the grassroots level, such as the Tea Party activists, are careful to distance themselves from either political party.  While the reactions of members of Congress to the ruling turn on whether they think it will boost, or destroy, their upcoming campaigns, "the People" see far more clearly the Framers’ wisdom that we all lose when corporations take over our electoral system.

At a time of such paralyzing partisanship in Washington, hopefully our elected leaders will heed the bipartisan chorus of voters reacting negatively to this ruling, and fight to restore the limits on corporate expenditures supported by our Constitution’s text and history.