Citizens Divided: Why the Latest Verdict on Campaign Finance is Bad for Women

Campaign finance reform is famously one of the most convoluted and complicated issues in politics. But there’s nothing ambiguous about the most recent development in the long saga of regulating campaign contributions: the Citizens United decision. It’s bad for progressives, and bad for women.

Last week’s ruling reverses previous limitations on corporate spending, and allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns based on the legally shaky premise that corporations’ “speech” should be protected by the First amendment.

But, as David Kairys points out on Slate in one of the most persuasive arguments against the ruling I’ve read so far, money isn’t speech and corporations aren’t people. He sums up the consequences of the Court’s latest decision like this:

The Citizens United decision will make it harder to achieve reforms opposed by major corporations and change business as well as politics. Increasing the constitutional rights of corporations beyond their business purposes is really about increasing the rights and power of corporate managers…Taken as a whole, the conservative court’s First Amendment jurisprudence has enlarged the speech rights available to wealthy people and corporations and restricted the speech rights available to people of ordinary means and to dissenters.

And he’s not the only one highlighting these consequences. The NY Times reports that President Obama called it “a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.”
So we already know that the decision is bad for “everyday Americans”. Many have argued that it’s bad for democracy. But what effect will it have on women?


I’m sorry to say, it’s not looking good, for a few reasons:

1) The “powerful interests” that Barack Obama and others have deemed most poised to benefit from this ruling, namely big business and corporations, are overwhelmingly male and conservative. This ruling means their influence will increase, which will make it even harder for women and progressives to thrive in the political landscape. Translation: you can expect to see even less representation. How do we expect to increase representation of feminist women’s voices in politics when conservative men have a disproportionate amount of sway?

2) Under the new ruling, women candidates have the potential to be exposed to more scathingly sexist criticism than they already are. We’re already familiar with the disproportionately high amountsof criticism and ridicule female political candidates face when pursuing election, but this ruling increases their risk of facing criticism. The NY Times reports that “The case had unlikely origins” in that it emerged from a case involving “Hillary: The Movie,” an anti-Hillary documentary, but I’d argue these are the most likely origins there are. We don’t have to look far to see the gross double standard and horrific criticism Hillary’s been exposed to during her career, to which her male counterparts have not been introduced to a comparable degree. The Citizens United ruling, both explicitly in its immediate practical consequences for the Hillary documentary, and implicitly in the long-term legal precedent set by the decision, condones corporate-funded attack ads that- if history is to give any indication- disproportionately affect women.

3) The ruling benefits corporate interests, and corporate interests are often anti-feminist. From labor rights and unionization efforts to the environment, more often than not corporate interests get in the way of feminist ones. For more on the intersection of anti-corporatism and feminism, check out Naomi Klein’s self-proclaimed feminist book, No Logo.

Tonight, Barack Obama is slated to give his first State of the Union address. Rumor has it that he will criticize the Citizens United decision, as he did last week. He may not mention women or feminism specifically in his remarks on the subject, but those with feminist sensibilities should support his efforts to criticize and curb the effects of this anti-progressive, anti-feminist ruling.

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is a writer and advocate focusing on race, gender, and sexual and reproductive rights. In addition to her work at Feministing, Lori is an Associate Director at Planned Parenthood Global. Lori has previously worked at the United Nations Foundation, the International Women’s Health Coalition, and Human Rights Watch, and has written for a host of print and digital properties including Rookie Magazine, The Grio, and the New York Times Magazine. She regularly appears on radio and television, and has spoken at college campuses across the U.S. about topics like the politics of black hair, transnational movement building, and the undercover feminism of Nicki Minaj. In 2014, she was named to The Root 100 list of the nation's most influential African Americans, and to the Forbes Magazine list of the "30 Under 30" successful people in media.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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