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Dennis Kucinich vs. Glenn Greenwald: Is Citizens United a Deathblow for Democracy or a 1st Amendment Victory?

Rep. Kucinich warns, "This is something that Jefferson feared, something that Lincoln feared."
 
 
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A new poll has found nearly two-thirds of respondents oppose the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in the recent Citizens United case to allow corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money to elect and defeat candidates. Rep. Dennis Kucinich and Glenn Greenwald offer differing opinions on the controversial ruling. [Transcript edited for clarity]

Amy Goodman: ... I wanted to ask you about the Supreme Court decision opening the floodgates for corporate money in politics.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich:We’re working on a constitutional amendment right now that would address this—the core issues in not only the Citizens United case, but the Buckley v. Valeo case. Our government right now is like an auction, where policy goes to the highest bidder. And this pay-to-play environment is destructive of any hope that people could have to have their practical aspirations addressed by the government. You know, the idea that Wall Street is now moving its smart money over to the Republicans is quite instructive. The idea that health insurance interests could raise money during the very—for members of Congress, during the very time that legislation is before the Congress that would change the way that they do business, these are things that reflect on the danger to our democracy.

And I think this Citizens United case, which gave the corporations the ability to interfere in elections in a major way, through their money, puts us at risk of openly having a corporate-dominated government. Now it’s kind of a secret, I suppose, in some places. But once Citizens United was decided by the Supreme Court in the way it was, now it’s basically open season on anyone who challenges these corporate interests and a free pass for anyone who supports them. A real danger to our democratic tradition calls out for constitutional remedies, and there are many that are now being considered, and I’m certainly working on some.

Goodman:Your response, Glenn Greenwald?

Glenn Greenwald:Well, you know, it was interesting because I was—I agree with Congressman Kucinich completely with regard to the constitutional arguments he was making about the presidential assassination program. If you look at the Fifth Amendment, it really does say no person shall be deprived of life without due process. It says that in clear terms. To me, the First Amendment is just as clear, and it says Congress shall make no law abridging free speech. And as Justice Hugo Black said, I read that to mean Congress shall make no law abridging free speech.

So, I certainly agree that corporate dominance of our Congress—you know, Senator Durbin recently said the banks own the place, an extraordinary statement for the second-highest-ranking Democrat in the Senate to make. I think the corporate dominance of our political process is one of the two or three greatest threats we face. But I also think that whatever solutions we try and find for that need to be consistent with the clear constitutional prescriptions of the First Amendment, and allowing the government to ban or regulate corporations from speaking out on elections, to me, seems very problematic.

So I think there are ways around it. I think public financing of campaigns can equalize the playing field. I think some constitutional amendment might be viable, but I do think it’s a very difficult question constitutionally to allow the government to start saying who can speak about our elections and who can’t. So, I think the First Amendment needs to be just as honored as the Fifth Amendment when we talk about these issues.

Goodman:Congress member Kucinich?

Rep. Kucinich:Well, I would agree with Mr. Greenwald and also thank him for the three important articles he wrote in the wake of Dana Priest writing in the Washington Post about this assassination program.

With respect to corporate contributions, let’s take for example anyone who gets a contract from the government. Why should they be permitted to plow the money they get from taxpayers back into political contributions? Because since money is fungible, that is what would happen. There should be restrictions there. That would go a long way to stopping these interest groups from being able to compete for government contracts and then turn around and rewarding those who give them money. I mean, take, for example, the bailouts. You know, we will have an unending bailout culture, if you can have Wall Street continuing to give money to politicians who will then vote for bailouts for them. When does it stop?

This is why the only remedy is constitutional. And certainly one of the factors that has to be in there is public financing. I mean, if you have public financing of campaigns, you have public ownership of the political process. You have private financing of campaigns, you have private ownership of the political process. So, again, we’re continuing in this experiment in government to decide what kind of government we want. Do we want government of the people? Do we want government of the corporations? Right now, with two Supreme Court rulings, we have moved towards the balance towards government of the corporations. This is something that Jefferson feared, something that Lincoln feared, something that Eisenhower warned about. And we should find out, in this time, in 2010, whether or not we truly believe that this Declaration of Independence and Constitution is a living testament or whether it’s just, you know, a document gathering dust in some place in antiquity.

Amy Goodman is the host of the nationally syndicated radio news program, Democracy Now!