Former United States Congressman Bob Edgar will visit Claremont today to participate in a panel discussion on the Jan. 2010 Supreme Court Decision Citizens United vs. FEC at Claremont Graduate University (CGU). Edgar, who is currently the president of Common Cause, a nonpartisan and nonprofit lobby and advocacy organization, will also meet with students in Pomona’s Doms Lounge from 3-4 p.m. to discuss careers in the non-profit industry.
The panel takes place tonight from 7-9 p.m. in CGU’s Albrecht Auditorium and will also feature a professor at the U.C. Irvine School of Law and a Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. Co-sponsored by the American Institute for Progressive Democracy and Common Cause, the panel will tackle the controversial 2010 Supreme Court decision that drastically redefined campaign finance.
“[The panel features] very smart people with very different views, and my hope is that it will inform a conversation with the audience,” said Dean of the CGU School of Politics and Economics Jean Schroedel.
The event comes during the run-up to the 2012 presidential election and at a time when many politicians and spectators are debating the growing role of financial contributions in American politics. In the controversial Citizens United case, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that corporate funding of independent political broadcasts in candidate elections could not be limited because of the First Amendment’s protection of free speech.
The ruling defined corporations as legal persons under the Fourteenth Amendment, invalidating a key provision of the 2002 McCain-Feingold Act that set limits on how much money outside interest groups could spend. It also allowed for so-called 501(c) non-profit organizations to withhold the names of their donors, a move that some critics have claimed may harm democracy by allowing monied interests to anonymously engage in electioneering.
Under Edgar’s direction, Common Cause has been a leading critic of the Supreme Court’s decision, going so far as to petition the Justice Department to investigate whether Justices Scalia and Thomas had conflicts of interest in the case, and organizing citizen support for a new Constitutional amendment to prohibit unlimited corporate spending. In an editorial for The Huffington Post, Edgar argued that “five members of the current Supreme Court have edited our founding document to give corporations constitutional protections, including freedom of speech.”
One of the other panelists, Hans von Spakovsky, has expressed support for the court’s ruling. In an editorial for The Heritage Foundation, he praised the court for upholding “ancient First Amendment principles,” adding that “there is no rational reason why [corporations and other organizations] should not be able to engage in independent political activity.”
Schroedel said it was important for the CGU panel to represent a range of views on the topic. “It should make for a lively discussion,” she said.
The Citizens United case had a significant impact on the 2010 midterm elections. According to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, spending by outside groups on political campaigns quadrupled between 2006 and 2010, and 47 percent of the spending during the last cycle came from groups that do not disclose their donors. Overall, such undisclosed spending is thought to have favored Republican candidates by a ratio of 6:1, according to the non-partisan Sunlight Foundation. However, observers expect Democrats to take advantage of the new rules in the upcoming cycle, and the 2012 election is shaping up to be the most expensive election ever, with candidates, parties, and outside groups all spending record sums.
“This is an important conversation to be having,” Schroedel said. “Money is extraordinarily important in elections, more so now than ever.”