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August 01, 2013

Sierra Club to Supreme Court: Close the Floodgates on Polluter Political Money

The Sierra Club's 2.1 million members and supporters know that to protect our environment, we must protect our democracy. The last thing our nation needs is another decision like that the Supreme Court had in Citizens United v. FEC, opening up the floodgates to even more corrupting money from big polluters that would drown out the voices of everyone else while washing away any remaning semblance of accountability.

That is why the Sierra Club -- along with the other principal conveners of the Democracy Initiative -- is urging the Court to avoid a second Citizens United decision and to rule to ensure our government is responsive to every American and not just to deep-pocketed campaign donors.

A coalition of groups, including the Democracy Initiative's core -- the Sierra Club, Communication Workers of America, Greenpeace, and the NAACP  -- as well as organizations that represent small businesses (Main Street Alliance), young people (Our Time, Rock the Vote), working families (American Federation of Teachers, Working Families Organization), and the public interest (People for the American Way, U.S. PIRG) have come together to file a brief authored by public policy organization Demos.

The brief urges the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold "aggregate" federal campaign contribution limits and prevent a deepening of the public dissatisfaction that has followed the Citizens United decision. Those limits are being challenged in the case McCutcheon v. FEC.

If the Supreme Court strikes these limits, a single wealthy donor will be able to contribute more than $3.6 million to the Democratic or Republican party's candidates and party committees in a single election cycle.  The current limit is $123,200, which is already more than twice what the average American family earns in a year.

Overturning those limits would make a bad situation worse and give deep-pocketed big polluters an even larger platform to push their agenda alongside massive campaign contributions, while shutting everyone else out. It would, in effect, be a second Citizens United decision.

For decades, the Supreme Court has recognized that avoiding corruption and the appearance of corruption are important reasons to limit campaign contributions. Already, Americans see the influx of political money and doubt the system is accountable. Sixty percent of Americans believe that members of Congress are more likely to vote to please their contributors than their constituents. The wrong decision in McCutcheon would only provide more evidence that their impression is absolutely true.

Big polluters should not be able to buy their way into the air we breathe and the water we drink. Corporate money shouldn't be able to drown out our voices. Everyone should have a chance to be heard. These are principles that are fundamental to the promise of our nation. Hopefully, the Supreme Court agrees.

--Courtney Hight, director of the Sierra Club's Democracy Program

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