Congressman Steve Cohen

Representing the 9th District of Tennessee

Congressman Cohen’s Statement on the Sixth Anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United Decision

January 21, 2016
Press Release

[MEMPHIS, TN] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, today released the following statement to mark the sixth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) decision, which has given corporations a right to buy unlimited influence in our elections.

“With Citizens United, the Supreme Court has opened the floodgates and made it easier for billionaires and corporations to completely drown middle-class Americans out of the political process,” said Congressman Cohen. “The far-reaching, democracy-damaging consequences of these misguided decisions have made it clear that something needs to change. I am proud to be a cosponsor of a constitutional amendment to overturn this court decision and ensure that every citizen’s right to equally participate in our democracy.”

Congressman Cohen is a cosponsor of the Democracy for All Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (H.J.Res. 22).  This amendment would overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision that allows unlimited political contributions.  The amendment would authorize limits on the raising and spending of money to influence elections. Congressman Cohen is also a cosponsor of a constitutional amendment (H.J.Res. 23) to declare that corporations are not persons, people or citizens as used in the U.S. Constitution, as well as a constitutional amendment (H.J.Res.36) to clarify that nothing in the U.S. Constitution prohibits the imposition of content-neutral restrictions on corporate political spending.

Congressman Cohen is also a cosponsor of the Disclosure of Information on Spending Campaigns Leads to Open and Secure Elections (DISCLOSE) Act of 2015 (H.R. 430).  This bill improves disclosure of campaign-related spending by corporations, Super PACs and other outside groups in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission decision by requiring corporations, Super PACs and other outside groups to report to the Federal Elections Commission within 24 hours of making a $10,000 campaign expenditure or financial transfer to other groups for campaign activity requiring corporations, Super PACs and other outside groups to stand by their advertising by saying they “approve this message,” requiring corporations, Super PACs and other outside groups to disclose their campaign-related spending to their shareholders and organization members, and requiring all federally registered lobbyists to disclose their political expenditures.

Background on the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC Decision

In 2010, the Supreme Court’s highly controversial, 5-4 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC held that corporations and other private entities - including 501(C) organizations that do not have to disclose their donors – have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited sums of money influencing the outcome of public elections.  In his far-reaching opinion for the 5-4 majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy held that any election law that goes beyond preventing quid pro quo, bribery-style corruption between candidates and donors risks violating the First Amendment.

The result of the Citizens United decision has been elections dominated by record-breaking spending by Super PACs and unaccountable outside groups funded by corporations and a tiny, extraordinarily wealthy sliver of the American population. In 2012, the first presidential election cycle following the Citizens United decision, 93 percent of Super PAC funding came from 3,318 donors, amounting to less than .01 percent of the U.S. population. Likewise, the 2014 midterm election cycle was the most expensive in history, with record-shattering spending by outside groups emboldened by Citizens United.