So Congress is scrambling to find a legislative response. There are several options, such as prohibiting foreign nationals from funneling money into elections through U.S. subsidiaries, strengthening the coordination rules to prevent corporations from employing the same campaign consultants as candidates, and enhancing transparency requirements of corporate entities financing ads. Each of these will help.
But special consideration should be given to three powerful tools for off-setting the expected corporate onslaught.
First is a strong shareholder protection act. Corporate executives should not be able to take other people’s money - corporate funds from investors and shareholders, including funds that citizens invest into retirement accounts - and spend it to further their own agenda without shareholders’ consent or even knowledge. All shareholders should get a vote on these expenditures. Unlike a weaker version in the U.K. where only one resolution for corporate political spending has ever been rejected by those “representing” shareholders, institutional investors and brokers should not be able to vote on behalf of their investors. All shareholders must be informed and asked for approval and the expenditures made public record.
Second, a robust public financing system is the single most important legislative response to unlimited corporate spending. Qualified candidates should be provided with generous amounts of public funds for their campaigns so they can answer corporate-funded attack ads.
Finally, we must realize that the Citizens United decision is so sweeping, and this Court is so set on legislating, that a constitutional amendment is in order to clarify for the Court what the First Amendment means.
Corporations are not people, they do not vote, and they should not be able to influence election outcomes. It is time to end this debate by amending the Constitution to make clear that First Amendment rights belong to natural persons and the press and do not apply to for-profit corporations.
No one should take amending the Constitution lightly, especially the First Amendment. It is a matter that requires careful deliberation. But five justices have interpreted the First Amendment in a way that does grave harm to our democracy, and the Court shows every sign of extending the damage further. A constitutional amendment is the only wayto overcome with finality the profound challenges to our democracy posed by the Citizens United decision.