April 5, 2012
Colbert Report Receives the Peabody for Super PAC Segment

This blog reported last month that comedian Stephen Colbert has been using his wildly popular Comedy Central show, the Colbert Report, to educate his viewers on the Citizens United decision and super PACs. Today we are reporting that the Colbert Report has been given a George Foster Peabody Award at the 71st annual Peabody Awards.

The award is a long honored recognition of distinguished public service by radio, television, and network organizations and individuals without factoring popularity or success of the program.

In a reflection of how Americans continue to feel strongly about the rise of “money politics” in the wake of the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC, the Peabody award panel stated, “Comedy Central’s ‘The Colbert Report’ won its second Peabody for its deadpan anchor’s ‘Super PAC’ segments lampooning the rise of megabucks politics.” Further commenting, they revealed, “Launching his own Super PAC as a satirical protest against megabucks politics, Colbert mixed cerebral comedy with inspired sight gags, interviews and preposterously funny monologues.”

Maintaining his comedic stance of protest against the Supreme Court’s decision Colbert said in response, “What an honor! I am truly speechless. Luckily, thanks to Citizens United, my money can speak for me.”

The Citizens United decision and the resultant super PAC emergence in the American political process continues to be a hot button topic with many highly respected scholars and public figures landing on both sides of the issue. For a deeper look at the heart of the decision and its impact, be sure to attend the Citizens United forum in Jamaica Plain, Boston on Wednesday April 11. Panelists to discuss the decision and take questions from the audience include State Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton), President of the New England Legal Foundation Martin Newhouse, constitutional law scholar Professor Lawrence Friedman and WGBH journalist and former Washington Post reporter Ibby Caputo.

March 28, 2012
The Press Release

Supreme Court

Below is the press release for the panel being held in conjunction with this blog

Citizens United Forum Presented by Students of Boston College Law School

A collaborative of Boston College graduate students will be hosting a panel on the subject of Citizens United and campaign finance reform in Jamaica Plain on April 11 at 7pm.  Panelists will include State Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton), President of the New England Legal Foundation Martin Newhouse, constitutional law scholar Professor Lawrence Friedman and WGBH journalist and former Washington Post reporter Ibby Caputo. Admission to the forum is free and residents of Boston and the surrounding communities are encouraged to attend and learn the reasoning behind this important Supreme Court decision and the rationale of the opposition.

“People should care about the Citizens United decision because it is having an effect on the way democracy is practiced in this country, about the way elections work and who gets elected and why,” said Professor Lawrence Friedman, a professor of constitutional law at New England Law | Boston and a panelist for the forum.

In January of 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a decision on Citizens United v. FEC, which displaced crucial portions of the McCain-Feingold bill related to political campaign spending limits. Regularly thought to stand for the prospect that corporations are people, in reality it is a far more complicated decision based on a constitutional interpretation of the First Amendment’s right to free speech. The Citizens United decision has ultimately lead to the establishment of super PACs (Political Action Committees) which facilitate unrestricted spending on political advertising by corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals, and which have allegedly resulted in a shift in the political landscape.

Though heavily criticized by some as a means by which certain parties will be permitted to unfairly influence elections, others, including panelist Martin Newhouse, believe the Citizens United decision replaces a poorly conceived statute and will create a better informed public.

The Citizens United decision has created a unique variety of responses.  It is one of the few highly controversial issues on which the traditionally conservative National Rifle Association and the traditionally liberal American Civil Liberties Union find themselves in agreement; both parties supporting the decision.  Despite that star-crossed alliance, there is a large and loud movement in opposition to the decision, some parties, including panelist Eldridge, proposing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would in essence reverse the Citizens United decision.

“For over a century, Congress and the states have limited the role of money in the political process due to its inevitably corrupting influence,” said State Senator Eldridge. “We need to take action to ensure that the right of free speech is preserved for citizens, not corporations and that we require new levels of disclosure and transparency for corporate political spending and prohibiting foreign corporations from influencing elections.”

The informed citizenry of the United States is rightfully abuzz with commentary on the subject of campaign finance reform and the Citizens United decision.  Attending the Citizens United public forum on April 11th or monitoring the supporting blog site at http://citizensunitedlegalforum.tumblr.com are easy ways to become better informed no matter what your political persuasion. 

The panel will take place at the United Universalist Church located at 6 Eliot Street in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston and will begin at 7:00 PM.

March 18, 2012
An introduction to this project

Thank you to Professor Richard Hasen and the Election Law Blog for featuring a link to this blog.  For those who want more background on the origins of this blog, below is a description of the project:

Citizens United v. FEC, decided in January 2010, was one of the most controversial Supreme Court decisions in recent years with an impact that is only now fully being felt. The decision struck down provisions of the bipartisan-led McCain-Feingold Act, which limited spending for political purposes by corporations, unions and wealthy individuals. The Supreme Court ruled that these limitations imposed unconstitutional restrictions on the First Amendment right to free speech. The ruling led to the creation of super PACs (Political Action Committees), which can raise unlimited amounts of money for political purposes as long as they do not coordinate directly with the candidates.

As this year’s presidential campaigns take shape, the first since Citizens United was decided, the major Republican candidates have all seen large amounts of money pouring into their super PACs and despite criticizing the decision in a State of the Union address after it came down, President Obama has decided to embrace the formation of a super PAC supporting his reelection. Many people unhappy with the Citizens United ruling have advocated for a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision.

But does an amendment make sense? Russ Feingold, a chief sponsor of the now-invalidated limit, was highly critical of the decision, but opposed an amendment because he did not want to interfere with the Bill of Rights. The American Civil Liberties Union and liberal writer Eliot Spitzer both supported striking down this spending limitation because they felt the law violated an important First Amendment principle. Simply saying that corporations are not people may create unintended, and undesireable, consequences, even for those opposed to corporate interests. It may allow the government to nationalize entire industries or prevent anyone from being able to sue a corporation. Furthermore, it might not solve the problem of large donations unfairly influencing elections due to the fact that, as this election season has demonstrated, many of the super PACs are funded not by corporations, but by wealthy individuals. But at the very least, Citizens United has provided the nation with an opportunity to start a conversation about the issue of money in elections.

We started this blog to exercise our First Amendment right to engage in this conversation and inform our community.  The conversation will culminate with a forum on April 11 in Boston featuring several prominent individuals already participating in the discussion: Senator Jamie Eldridge, former public interest attorney and sponsor of a resolution to Congress calling for an amendment in response to the decision; Professor Lawrence Friedman, a constitutional law professor at New England Law – Boston; Martin J. Newhouse, president of the New England Legal Foundation and law professor at Suffolk University; and Ibby Caputo, a reporter at NPR and PBS-affiliated WGBH and former Washington Post staff writer. They will each provide a unique perspective on the decision, its effects, and what, if anything, should be done. We hope to see you there.

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