So much for restraint

Supreme Court gives new meaning to ‘judicial overreach’

Should Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez be able to drop a million bucks into the campaign coffers of an American political candidate?

That’s one of the possible results—and far from the most significant one—of the U.S. Supreme Court’s supremely misguided 5-4 decision in Citizens United vs. FEC, issued last week. It well may be one of the most profound, and most dangerous, examples of judicial overreach in American history. And to think it was done in the name of the First Amendment.

The decision strikes down a century of federal laws—and those of 22 states—barring direct corporate expenditures on politicians’ campaigns. It gives corporations—which, as Justice John Paul Stevens pointed out in his dissent, can’t vote or run for office—the same rights as individuals to spend freely on political advertising.

That includes foreign corporations with U.S. subsidiaries. The Venezuelan government, which owns the oil company Citgo, and the Saudi Arabian government, which owns Houston’s Saudi Refining Co., could have as much influence on American elections as they’re willing to spend.

The best response to this outrageous decision would be to implement workable public financing of campaigns, such as Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin has proposed. His plan rewards candidates with public funding based on how much they have raised from small donors. As Jonathan Alter, writing in Newsweek, points out, the idea already works well in New York City and other localities.

Something must be done. Otherwise, we’re about to witness the corporate takeover of American politics.