Survey: Four in Five Americans Support Amendment to Overturn Citizens United

At the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s controversial ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a new public opinion survey finds that 79 percent of Americans sharply disapprove of the decision and support a constitutional amendment to reverse the court’s ruling.

The study, conducted by the respected Hart Research Associates polling organization on behalf of Free Speech for People, confirmed previous polls that found wide-ranging and strong disapproval for the decision but is the most comprehensive to date to measure public support for enacting a constitutional amendment, according to Free Speech for People, which describes itself as a a national non-partisan campaign “working to restore democracy to the people and to return corporations to their place as economic rather than political entities.”

In the last Congress, lawmakers, including Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) introduced amendment bills seeking to overturn the Citizens United decision. That legislation expired with the swearing-in of the new 112th Congress, and would have to be re-introduced to be acted upon.

“This study demonstrates that across a broad political spectrum, the American people oppose the Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. FEC,” says John Bonifaz, co-founder and director of Free Speech for People. “They are ready for a constitutional amendment campaign that will restore our democracy and return corporations to their place as economic rather than political entities.”

The Jan. 21, 2010, decision by the conservative bloc of the Supreme Court, Citizens United swept away decades of bipartisan limits on corporate influence in elections. The ruling helped open the floodgates to the torrent of negative attack advertising that became pervasive during the 2010 midterm election campaign. The decision helped establish the concept that corporations have “personhood,” or the same rights as individuals.

The Free Speech for People survey also examined public opinion regarding corporations and the current regulatory system and found little confidence in both. Only 5 percent of voters feel that the current rules and regulations controlling the influence of large corporations on legislation and enforcement are working well. Additionally, only 14 percent have a great deal or quite a bit of confidence in corporations, while 61 percent worry a great deal or quite a bit that corporations have too much influence and control over government rules and regulations. Underscoring this lack of trust is that better than four in five (82 percent) Americans feel corporations care mostly about profits, cut corners on services, overcharge on prices, and do not treat their customers well.

According to the survey, the public also has little faith in the current political system. Only 20 percent of voters claim to be satisfied with the current U.S. political system, while 57 percent are dissatisfied. What’s more, just 14 percent of voters have a great deal or quite a bit of confidence in the political system, while 52 percent have little confidence.

The survey found support for a constitutional amendment “to make clear that corporations do not have the same rights as people” crosses all party lines. Large majorities of Democrats (87 percent), independents (82 percent), and Republicans (68 percent) support passage of the amendment.

“Each of the arguments in favor of passing a Constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision,” Hart Research reports, “is more convincing than any of the arguments against it, and the least effective argument against passage is that it will take too long and is not a good use of Congress’s time.”

“In many different ways,” Hart Research concludes, “the American public makes clear its disapproval of the ruling in the Citizens United case and signals its broad support for a Constitutional amendment to overturn this decision and make clear that corporations do not have the same rights as people. There is a clear desire to readjust the level of influence that corporations have in the nation’s political, legislative, and regulatory systems.”

The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.

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