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Stephan Melsted, Fargo, Published November 17 2012

Letter: Fallout from ‘Citizens United’ should cause citizens to unite

So how did you like our first national election playing by the rules resulting from “Citizens United”? You know, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allowed unlimited political expenditures by corporations and unions, and ultimately caused a decades-old Montana law passed to limit the corrupting influence of corporations on elections to be overturned.

In thinking similar to Mitt Romney’s “corporations are people,” the court ruled that corporate political advertising is “free speech,” and therefore cannot be limited. Anyone with the money could buy ads to advance their “issue.” And as we saw, there was no shortage of money, or issues.

Finding the issue in the resulting ads was indeed a challenge. It could be as obtuse as “debt,” “spending,” or “economy.” They couldn’t say “vote for” or “elect” so and so – only advertising paid for by the actual candidate could do that – but anything else they wanted to say was fine as long as it was even most briefly associated with an “issue.” And say anything they did – from merely stretching the truth, to out-and-out lies.

Which brings us to the problem. Without the candidate saying “I approve this message,” and no provision to identify the true funding source, there is no accountability. Since “Citizens United” could have been called “The Local Radio Station and TV Affiliate Recovery Program,” you won’t hear them tackling this problem. They made out like bandits at a time when many questioned their survivability. Print probably didn’t fare as well except with their digital editions. I couldn’t go anywhere online without seeing banner ads spouting half-truths or full untruths.

All in all, I found the incessant negative election ads disgusting, and degrading to the democratic process. While it is heartening to hear that Americans were little swayed by this costly, caustic “free speech,” it doesn’t change how unseemly and insidious the influence of money in politics has become.

Respected journalist Tom Brokaw put it best. What’s in a name? The solution. Not “Citizens United,” but “citizens, united.”

Unless Congress passes meaningful campaign finance reform, this negative nonsense is the new status quo. But why would they want to shoot the gift horse that helps get them, or keep them, in office? Obviously they wouldn’t. Unless we the citizens unite to demand change. Until the composition of the Supreme Court swings to the left and “Citizens United” is revisited, only Congress can undo this most egregious error.

It’s not that I object to how much money is spent – previous limits would be preferable, but I guess the local economic boost is better – as much as I cannot tolerate the lack of accountability. Spending should only come directly from the political campaigns. Candidates will have their feet held to the fire if less-than-truth telling is accompanied by the “I approve” line.

So, citizens, unite. Tell those who represent your state that this no-account type of outside interest mega-spending is unworthy of our national political process. Only then can Montana, and all states, regain rightful control of corrupting influences on their local elections. Political discourse will improve when candidates must personally defend their allegations. Watching TV during election season won’t be less annoying, just less revolting.