January 23rd, 2010
11:21 AM ET
5 years ago

Obama hammers Supreme Court ruling

(CNN) - In his weekly radio and video address Saturday, President Obama sharply criticized the Supreme Court’s ruling earlier this week easing some campaign finance regulations.

"This ruling opens the floodgates for an unlimited amount of special interest money into our democracy," Obama says in the address. "It gives the special interest lobbyists new leverage to spend millions on advertising to persuade elected officials to vote their way – or to punish those who don’t."

Full transcript of address after the jump

One of the reasons I ran for President was because I believed so strongly that the voices of everyday Americans, hardworking folks doing everything they can to stay afloat, just weren’t being heard over the powerful voices of the special interests in Washington. And the result was a national agenda too often skewed in favor of those with the power to tilt the tables.

In my first year in office, we pushed back on that power by implementing historic reforms to get rid of the influence of those special interests. On my first day in office, we closed the revolving door between lobbying firms and the government so that no one in my administration would make decisions based on the interests of former or future employers. We barred gifts from federal lobbyists to executive branch officials. We imposed tough restrictions to prevent funds for our recovery from lining the pockets of the well-connected, instead of creating jobs for Americans. And for the first time in history, we have publicly disclosed the names of lobbyists and non-lobbyists alike who visit the White House every day, so that you know what’s going on in the White House – the people’s house.

We’ve been making steady progress. But this week, the United States Supreme Court handed a huge victory to the special interests and their lobbyists – and a powerful blow to our efforts to rein in corporate influence. This ruling strikes at our democracy itself. By a 5-4 vote, the Court overturned more than a century of law – including a bipartisan campaign finance law written by Senators John McCain and Russ Feingold that had barred corporations from using their financial clout to directly interfere with elections by running advertisements for or against candidates in the crucial closing weeks.

This ruling opens the floodgates for an unlimited amount of special interest money into our democracy. It gives the special interest lobbyists new leverage to spend millions on advertising to persuade elected officials to vote their way – or to punish those who don’t. That means that any public servant who has the courage to stand up to the special interests and stand up for the American people can find himself or herself under assault come election time. Even foreign corporations may now get into the act.

I can’t think of anything more devastating to the public interest. The last thing we need to do is hand more influence to the lobbyists in Washington, or more power to the special interests to tip the outcome of elections.

All of us, regardless of party, should be worried that it will be that much harder to get fair, common-sense financial reforms, or close unwarranted tax loopholes that reward corporations from sheltering their income or shipping American jobs off-shore.

It will make it more difficult to pass commonsense laws to promote energy independence because even foreign entities would be allowed to mix in our elections.

It would give the health insurance industry even more leverage to fend off reforms that would protect patients.

We don’t need to give any more voice to the powerful interests that already drown out the voices of everyday Americans.

And we don’t intend to. When this ruling came down, I instructed my administration to get to work immediately with Members of Congress willing to fight for the American people to develop a forceful, bipartisan response to this decision. We have begun that work, and it will be a priority for us until we repair the damage that has been done.

A hundred years ago, one of the great Republican Presidents, Teddy Roosevelt, fought to limit special interest spending and influence over American political campaigns and warned of the impact of unbridled, corporate spending. His message rings as true as ever today, in this age of mass communications, when the decks are too often stacked against ordinary Americans. And as long as I’m your President, I’ll never stop fighting to make sure that the most powerful voice in Washington belongs to you.


Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (138 Responses)
  1. tmart

    It is certainly a travesty for the Supreme Court to rule this way. Corporations and Unions do not have the right to vote like individuals do. It is bizarre that free speech rights would apply here. Can they make a law that simply denies corporations and unions from using their shareholders' or members' money or the profits earned from their investments? Because to use their money for political campaigning when some (or even one!) of those shareholders or members don't support the candidate should be illegal. I hope Congress can quickly come up with a law that will accomplish the same goals as the previous, but also meet the standards of the court. If not, they should just re-pass essentially the same law over and over again and change an "a" to a "the" every single time the court nulls it.

    January 23, 2010 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  2. Jin

    It is time to start planning Obama's possible appointments to the Court. They have just underwritten the movement from democracy to oligarchy and (as usual) reversed a previous position of this same court in the interest of political ideology. The party system is no longer relevant and the only clear distinction as we are taken into this new America is "Liberal" to "Conservative." These are two relatively undefined camps (in the minds of the masses) and no clear distinction is being made between fiscal and social conservatism; or between fiscal liberalism and social liberalism. The great part of our population does not recognize that they are being led easily by those who manipulate these distinctions at will for their own gain. America, get smarter or be willing to return to an era of educational and political peons.

    January 23, 2010 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  3. NotFooledTX

    Boy, good thing there weren't any activist judges on this court!

    If there were activists judges on the court they would have overturned long standing precedent that started in 1907, and was strengthened in 1947 to the detriment of our government of the people.

    Activists judges would have opened our elections and the process to foreign owned corporations in the US – giving them the ability to influence our elections.

    Yeah, it's a good thing the conservatives didn't appoint activist judges or "we the people" would really be screwed.

    January 23, 2010 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  4. Deb

    Bug13t: a succinct and accurate summary of how we've gotten to this point.

    I forget which founding father (Jefferson? Franklin? Adams?) responded– when asked what kind of government have they given us–'A Republic, if you can keep it', but I apologise to all the patriots who have shed blood: it looks like we just lost it.

    No wonder the Republicans–who would have backed the Crown in 1776–are crowing & celebrating the destruction of this great experiment in self-governing.

    January 23, 2010 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  5. Biased

    Special interest money influencing politicians' decisions - would this fit the category of labor unions who Obama caved to because they threatened to remove their support for democrats in the upcoming elections unless they got a special deal of not paying 45% extra taxes on their cadillac health plans for 5 or 6 years while all other Americans had to? Would this be the big Pharma companies who Obama carved out a deal with before healthcare negotiations even began and then when Congress wanted to re-import drugs, he made them remove that from their bill? I think Obama pretty well caves into special interests now so what more can it hurt? He already breaks his promises of no lobbyists in his administration by giving them special status and a disqualification from following his own rules. So is his major concern that his anti business rantings now to boost his popularism with the electorate going to come back and bite him – maybe?

    January 23, 2010 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  6. Chris

    We all know money buys elections. Obama's money came from his supporters, mostly individuals, who can rightfully claim that their donations put him in office.

    Now a candidate can be put in office by the money of big corporations who want to support the candidate for what they can do for big business, not what they will do for the people of the USA.

    Anyone who thinks this is good for democracy is a fool. Sure, people will vote on the issues... as falsely represented to them by the flood of ads sponsored by large corporations.

    Now might be the time to crack-down on truth in campaign ads, or make new ones so it is illegal to make untrue remarks about a candidate.

    January 23, 2010 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  7. Trueposition

    It seems some corrupt neo-cons are fired up again here after Brown´s opponent messed up her chance for senate seat. You republicans are not winning in November. I but you, you can´t be rewarded after 8 years of damaging America, no, not too soon.

    January 23, 2010 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  8. Marty, Grand Rapids MI

    People don't seem to understand. I'm not saying this was the incorrect ruling as there is a lot of complexities with these issues (why, for instance, can Fox and MSNBC run 24 hour infomercials for their candidates but other companies can't? In the same token, why is it ok to ban me from yelling fire in a crowded theater but we can have corporations destroy our democracy by spending as much money as they want to promote their political agenda).

    In any case, this ruling is bad for everyone. Republicans and Democrats. The only people this is good for are politicians (both republican and democrat) who are bought and payed for by corporations. Exxon had over 45 Billion in profits last year. They could spend billions of dollars without blinking an eye to further their interests. They could by and sell congressmen without issue. With companies like Exxon with endless pockets buying up air time, the costs to run a commercial will increase effectively eliminating anyone without serious money.

    We already have corporate influence in our politics. Democrats were going to pass the "Private Insurance Subsidy Act" to security health industry money. Republicans goto war so they can secure general dynamics, lockheed martin and haliburton money. This is just going to make the bribing worse and legal.

    Get ready to kiss your country goodbye everyone. If congress doesn't do anything to contain this ruling, the people will have no influence over government.

    January 23, 2010 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  9. Rob Stumpf

    Thanks to Barry for admitting the obvious– that this makes it harder for liberals like him to "reign in" corporate interests. But that's why we HAVE a First Amendment– so Congress can't use it's power to silence groups it doesn't like.

    The number of corporations with the economic power to help sway elections is miniscule. And THOSE corporations are not likely to get involved in very many high profile political fights- they would only be annoying about half of their customers, as well as their shareholders, too boot.

    America, of all places, doesn't need to be afraid of too much free speech. The people will decide in the end. If they don't like what corporations have to say, they can simply vote the other way...this is what liberty is.

    January 23, 2010 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  10. Albert K. L.A., CA

    Big business is not the solution to our problem, it is our problem and that is why we need to get big banks off of our backs, but the stench of Reaganomics still lingers in the breath of five members of the Supreme Court, thus the only way for Americans to take back our nation form big business is to amend the constitution limiting the size of business and restricting human rights to only human beings!

    January 23, 2010 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  11. Tammy

    Can Supreme Court judges be bought? Pelican Brief?

    January 23, 2010 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  12. peace4uandme

    A loophole to overturn the decision ?
    The Supreme Court has ruled against legalizing polygamy. With that in mind, and this decision that corporations have "human" rights, if a man and a woman start a business and form a corporation, and another woman goes into business with a woman and form a corporation, could those two corporations now marry, or as they say in the corporate world, "merge, giving the four legal right to live together?"

    January 23, 2010 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  13. Cliff

    This is not about politics.
    It's about a "class" of people who continue to rely on government for every aspect of their lives.
    Never work. Get paid. Never work. Get drive-thru means. No will to take care of self. Get sick. Govt take care of me. Need housing. Got take care of me. Need ANYTHING. Govt take care of me.
    When people assume responsibility for their own life they year wasted on Obama-Care will never be needed.
    Would like to see how many who have coverage from their employer would be willing to give "half" of it up for one of these lazy people or an illegal. Yeah, right!

    January 23, 2010 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  14. Edward

    Money is NOT speech. Corporations are NOT people. Can conseratives not see this simple truth?

    January 23, 2010 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  15. Mayy, NY

    I cannot believe all the lies and hatred spewing out of Republican's mouths as of late.... It's truly disgusting. Just about every post under this article is a lie or has extremely twisted facts....

    January 23, 2010 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  16. southern cousin

    He wants to pick the fat, slobby union bosses he makes deals with.

    January 23, 2010 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  17. Voter from California

    Obama's statement confuses me. He is against special interests? But his actions show otherwise.

    A simple example: he was willing to sign a healthcare bill that gave Nebraska 100% money for medicare, all to win Nebraska's senator's vote! Isn't that the same or worse as special interest lobbying too hard?

    January 23, 2010 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  18. Common

    The Democrats have been recieving billions from SEIU and other government labor unions without any objection, but God forbid the Business Community be able to wield the same clout. HA HA HA. Again, the Majority on the Supreme Court gets it right.

    January 23, 2010 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  19. Chris

    They should change the law to make it such that all those political ads around election time are required to list their major donors. How effective would an ad against financial regulation be if it ended with, "payed for by Goldman Sachs"?

    January 23, 2010 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  20. Barbara- a Canadian

    Anyone who is hailing this decision as a victory for free speech needs a lesson in logic. The use of "free speech" by a foreign corporation means that they have the clout to elect a representative or senator of their choice and leaning to frustrate YOUR right to free speech, and, ultimately, your country's economy and well being. Hello????? anyone out there??? Watching this whole debacle I seriously worry about where our neighbours are heading - looks like anarchy and bedlam to me. Guys... get a clue!

    January 23, 2010 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  21. Joe

    The recent election in Massachusetts showed just how fickle, and–pardon me–stupid the voters can be, childishly voting from their guts and not their brains, and not even thinking about what is in their best interests. Now the court wants to allow massive amounts of propaganda to flood the airwaves, manipulate the masses, and make a bad situation worse? A new low for American political cynicism.

    January 23, 2010 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  22. Tarat

    Obama is on the right side of this issue, I'm glad to see it. This court's decision is just further evidence that our politicians have been bought and sold by corporations and special interests.

    I'm sorry, but for those of you cynics who some how what to twist this around on Obama, that's just bitter partisanship. Educate yourselves, and know your enemy.

    January 23, 2010 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  23. bum

    This was a great decision. Now lets get term limits.

    Bum

    January 23, 2010 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  24. Jenn, Philadelphia

    He says he's against special interest groups having political influence. Who was that in the room with the Democrats during the creation of the health bill? I believe it was union leaders. This man is so full of sh**!

    January 23, 2010 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  25. charlene

    stop all the negativity you just hurt yourselves. thanks for the positive responses. this decision is outrageous and must be overturned.....

    January 23, 2010 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
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