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Amy Cross's picture

cross-posted to Women Make

The Citizen United Decision that allows corporations and unions to influence campaigns has ruled that restricting their campaign messages is equivalent to denying freedom of speech.

This Supreme Court decision has gotten thumbs down in many corners.  The president doesn’t like it.  Nor does his former opponent, John McCain. Former Justice Sandra Day O’Conner even spoke out.  This week’s poll by ABC/Washington Post showed that 65% of Americans strongly oppose the decision.

Yet perhaps women voters should be most upset with those five Men in Black.

If, when it comes to campaigns, money is speech, we know that women have less money and therefore less speech.

Money does win elections.  In the 2008 races, over 90% of the candidates who spent the most won. Only 6-7% of those who coughed up less than their opponent got a Congressional seat, according to data from the non-partisan group Open Secrets.  The presidential victor certainly spent more too.  The average purchase price, or rather expenditure—for a House seat is $1.37 million and for a Senate seat it’s $8.5 million. It’s harder for women candidates to raise big chunks of change--even from their own, so to speak. The non-partisan Women’s Campaign Forum published a report revealing that women only gave half as much money to women candidates as to men in 2008, even though 8 million more women voted.  Sam Bennett, the group’s leader has said, “The effect is clear: women candidates are being outraised and outspent. Money in politics is perpetuating the gender divide in public office”.   Wouldn’t bigger money create a bigger divide?

Certainly women’s campaigns don’t always attract the big money and donors.  In an analysis on this website of 2008 first time Congresswomen, most of the winners claimed Emily’s List and Act Blue (an online fund-raising mechanism for small donors) among their top two contributors—not any lobbying law firm or industrial sector.

Look what’s happened in the health care debate/debacle.  Health care lobbyists spent $166 million in 2009 and the resulting legislation made many American women feel as though they’ve been thrown under the bus.  Despite the ardor of groups such as Moms Rising, NOW and even a group called Not Under the Bus, they’re no match for that kind of financial firepower.  So women went backwards 30 years when it comes to abortion access.

I’m no legal scholar or campaign finance expert, but it seems to me that allowing corporations of the non- and for-profit kind to broadcast messages about candidates during election periods, will be another way to drown out the already attenuated political voice of women.

What will happen to women’s electoral fortunes now that corporations and unions are allowed to weigh in on candidates? Will total campaign expenditures go even higher-—in order to match these now-permitted corporate or union messages?  Will that make it more difficult for first time women candidates especially.


Last week, the nice ladies of the non-partisan League of Women Voters addressed Congress practically pleading for laws to counteract the Citizens United decision. They’re on it.  Legislators have already come up with a few proposed ways to limit and control this unbridled corporate speech: by having CEO’s in commercials saying they approve of the campaign message, by setting limits on foreign-owned corporations, by not allowing corporations that get public money to participate etc. etc. Still, all that may be just putting a band-aid on a leg that needs amputation

Most Americans already think that “big companies have too much power and influence in Washington” wrote the chairman of The Harris poll in the New York Times; the feeling is mutually bipartisan--85% of adults, including 84% of Republicans feel this way.  Citizens seem united:  they want government by the people, not the companies.

Perhaps the Citizens United decision will inspire Americans to redesign the whole campaign finance system.  The creative commons hero and Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig is proposing a movement: Fix Congress First.  Decreasing corporate involvement in politics might be a good thing for women.  And that would look more like government by the people—all of them.

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