Citizens United Foes, Civil Rights Pros: Common Ground on Voter ID

Photograph by Tim Pugmire/Minnesota Public Radio/AP Photo

A billboard on Interstate 94 east of downtown St. Paul, Minn. makes an appeal to soldiers and military veterans to support a proposed voter ID amendment on the ballot in Minnesota.

Advocates trying to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision or otherwise enact new limits on campaign spending are finding a common cause with civil rights groups fighting Republican efforts to enact voter-identification laws.

They say the issues are related.

“Voter suppression is the flip side of buying elections,” Benjamin Jealous, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said on a conference call this week to discuss outside spending in the 2012 elections.

Rallies across the country are being held today, over the weekend and into next week to mark the third anniversary of the Jan. 21 decision, which overturned decades of previous court decisions and legislation and removed restrictions on corporate and union spending in elections. The decision led to the creation of nonprofit groups such as Crossroads GPS that hide their donors, and super-political action committees such as Priorities USA Action that can take in unlimited donations, often from the same contributors who already have given the maximum to the candidate the PAC is supporting.

Groups such the NAACP have been fighting efforts in Republican-controlled legislatures to enact voter-ID laws, which studies show disproportionately affect minorities and other groups that tend to support Democratic candidates. Studies by the Brennan Center at New York University show that there are virtually no cases of voter fraud that the ID laws are supposed to prevent.

“Groups who work on a wide spectrum of issues recognize that the threats posed to democracy by big money in politics and voter suppression are two sides of the same coin: an attempt to take political power away from the general public and to concentrate it in the hands of a few wealthy donors and special interests,” said Blair Bowie, democracy advocate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, which favors stronger campaign finance laws. “We’ve realized that we’re going to need to combine our collective organizing power.”


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