Ethical Society of Northern Westchester Asks State Legislators to Think Again
October 15, 2010
NY State Legislature
Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12248
Ladies and Gentlemen:
We write with reference to the recent United States Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. As you know, that decision held that corporations are “persons” and as such have an unlimited right to spend corporate funds held in support of political candidates. In reaching this conclusion, the Court overturned years of legal precedent to the contrary with the narrowest possible majority.
We among many others including President Obama, Justice Stevens and three other members of the Supreme Court, strongly object and disagree with the Court’s decision and believe that its real world consequences to the citizens of the State of New York and all Americans could be devastating. We believe that we need to find ways to protect the integrity of our democratic society from the corrosive influence of profit-driven political spending.
We could recite reason after reason and quote the dire warnings of thousands of responsible commentators and scholars who have expressed outrage and shock at the Supreme Court decision but we believe that the power of monied profit driven corporations such as Wal-Mart or Goldman, Sachs to subvert the electoral process with their unlimited funds is self-evident to all fair-minded individuals. We do not believe that when the founders of our Constitution establishing the basic principles of American society wrote “We the People of the United States” they had Enron or Exxon in mind.
As Justice Stevens wrote in his dissent:
“… corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires. Corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their “person-hood” often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of “We the People” by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.
In a democratic society, the longstanding consensus on the need to limit corporate campaign spending should outweigh the wooden application of judge-made rules.
…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.” (citations omitted)
In order to mitigate the potential damage of this decision, we are writing to urge you to enact legislation in New York which would require every corporation as well as other entities, e.g., limited liability companies, partnerships and others with sufficient “nexus” in New York to obtain the prior affirmative vote or consent of a majority of the shareholders (not simply a majority of those voting) to authorize and approve any such corporate/entity expenditures. We believe that as a matter of fairness, no corporation or other entity should be allowed to spend corporate funds (which rightfully belong to its shareholders) for political purposes without the consent of at least a majority of such holders. It may be preferable to require the affirmative vote or consent of 2/3 of the shareholders but this can be the subject of debate by thoughtful individuals.
We also urge you to include as part of the legislation full and fair disclosure by corporations/entities both to their shareholders and the public with respect to any campaign spending that is sought to be authorized as no right minded person could reasonably object to the shareholders being provided with all relevant information to enable them to understand why they are being asked to approve political expenditures and to the public’s right to know the true identity and background of the speaker. We envision that this legislation would apply to entities organized in New York, entities that are qualified to do business in New York, and, to the extent possible, entities that otherwise have a substantial nexus to New York (e.g., those entities that desire to have their political views broadcast or otherwise transmitted to residents of the State of New York).
Unless we find a way to limit the corporate cash that is increasingly being used to buy votes for special interests with disregard for the common good, to quote Bill Moyers “we will wake up one day in a country we will no longer recognize.”
We note that the US Senate has on several occasions attempted to pass legislation regarding disclosure but the requisite vote to move forward with that legislation was not obtained. We hope that the U.S. Congress will continue its efforts but in any event, New York can and must take the lead and act and not allow corporations with their unlimited treasuries to decide who our elected officials will be and how they will vote.
Very truly yours,
Ethical Society of Northern Westchester
By: Susan Goldfrank & Betsy Weir