Each week, Congressman Adam Smith will answer your questions in Tacoma Weekly. To submit questions and read past responses, visit Tacoma Weekly online. Here is this week's question submitted by a reader for that ongoing effort:
QUESTION: "I am deeply concerned about the idea of corporations being people when it comes to the democratic process. It seems that ‘too big to fail’ corporations have the best of both worlds under the Citizens United v Federal Elections Commission decision. They can actively buy elections through largely unregulated campaign donations, but can claim ‘citizenship’ in other countries to avoid many taxes by shipping jobs or even just key leadership roles overseas. How do you see ‘corporations as citizens’ taking shape in the coming years?”
ADAM SMITH: I completely disagree with the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission (FEC), and I find it very harmful to our representative democracy. Nowhere does the Constitution say corporations should have the same rights as American citizens, and the court’s decision significantly changes a century of government efforts to regulate the power of corporations in campaign finance. The Citizens United decision overturned provisions of existing campaign finance law and allows corporations, unions and nonprofits to spend freely in federal elections. It also considerably altered the campaign finance debate by offering greater spending flexibility for a broader range of for-profit and nonprofit groups involved in the national political landscape.
Under the current privately-financed system, individuals and special interest groups that can afford to donate money to campaigns will have a disproportionate influence on elections and public policy as Members of Congress are pressured to spend a large amount of their time and energy on fundraising for their reelection rather than on their official duties. Within the next few years, this decision will weaken the ability for all citizens to equally participate in the political process.
Establishing a viable public funding system for congressional campaigns can improve our democratic system and would significantly prevent this from happening. A publicly-financed system that could compete with and ultimately replace, the private funding system would be a major step forward for our democracy. This is why I am a cosponsor of the Fair Elections Now Act, introduced by Representative John Larson which would create a voluntary system designed to leverage small donor contributions by providing a four to one federal match of contributions below $100 from residents of a candidate's state. Also, under this legislation, candidates may not accept contributions from political action committees.
I’m also a cosponsor of H. J. Res. 88, introduced by Representative James McGovern that proposes an amendment to the Constitution to clarify the authority of Congress and the states to regulate corporations, limited liability companies or other corporate. The amendment also emphasizes that “The words people, person, or citizen as used in this Constitution do not include corporations, limited liability companies or other corporate entities...”
Corporations should not have the same power as individuals to frame and shape our political discourse, but with this decision, the Supreme Court has allowed them that right. The Citizens United decision is not a true reflection of our democratic values where every individual is guaranteed equal weight in expressing their voice through financial support of candidates, nor does it accurately define the Constitutional rights that should only be reserved for citizens of and not corporations within the United States.