CHARLESTON – Local and national groups hoping to overturn a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding spending in federal elections held a rally at the State Capitol on Feb. 19.

The event protested the court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which held that corporations could use funds from their treasuries to support or oppose candidates in federal elections. Like in other states, legislation has been introduced in West Virginia that would ask Congress to overturn the decision.

“As legislators come back to the Capitol, this is a great time to keep this issue on their minds,” state Senate President Jeff Kessler said.

“West Virginia has the opportunity to take the lead in this fight for our democracy. People across the political spectrum are in favor of less money in politics. We need to continue backing efforts that move in the direction that all citizens want, which is a level playing field for our democracy.”

The case involved Citizens United, a conservative group that was told by the Federal Elections Commission that it could not provide its documentary about then-Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to cable stations.

The decision kept intact a law that forbids companies from donating funds directly to candidates. President Barack Obama was so disturbed by the decision that he mentioned it during his 2010 State of the Union address.

“The Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign companies — to spend without limit in our elections,” Obama said, with six justices in attendance.

“Well I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, and worse, by foreign entities.”

Justice Samuel Alito, who was a part of the 5-4 majority, shook his head and appeared to mouth the words “not true.”

The West Virginia resolution was introduced in the House by delegates Meshea Poore, Charlene Marshall, Nancy Peoples Guthrie, David Walker and Cliff Moore. All are Democrats.

“The people of West Virginia and all other states should have the power to limit by law the influence of money in their political systems,” the resolution says.

It adds that “corporations are not entitled to the same rights and protection as natural persons under the Constitution.”

Organizations supporting the event included AFSCME West Virginia, American Federation of Teachers—West Virginia, American Friends Service Committee, Coal River Mountain Watch, Communications Workers of America —West Virginia, Fairness West Virginia, Marshall University Democracy Matters, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Public Citizen, SEIU Local 1199, Seneca2, Sierra Club West Virginia Chapter, West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, West Virginia Citizens Action Group, West Virginia FREE, West Virginians for Democracy and West Virginia Rivers Coalition.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the swing vote between the court’s liberal and conservative sides, would disagree with those groups. He wrote the majority opinion in 2010.

“Some members of the public might consider ‘Hillary’ to be insightful and instructive; some might find it to be neither high art nor a fair discussion on how to set the Nation’s course; still others simply might suspend judgment on these points but decide to think more about issues and candidates,” Kennedy wrote.
“Those choices and assessments, however, are not for the Government to make.”

Montana and Colorado voters in November passed a similar measure to the one introduced in West Virginia. Seventy-five percent of voters in Montana supported an initiative that directed the state’s congressional delegation to support an amendment that would overturn the decision.

The U.S. Supreme Court in June overturned a Montana law – the Corrupt Practices Act - that prevented corporations from spending money during elections.

Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock called it “a sad day for democracy and for those of us who still want to believe that the U.S. Supreme Court is anything more than another political body in Washington, D.C.”

Peter Ferrara of the Heartland Institute in Chicago didn’t see it that way.

“The Supreme Court… reaffirmed the obvious point that the Left is trying to shout down: Corporations are voluntary associations of people joining together to advance their goals, and so have the same rights as those people, including the right to freedom of speech,” said Ferrara, the institute’s senior fellow for entitlement and budget policy.

From the West Virginia Record: Reach John O’Brien at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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