Accountability After Citizens United

April 29, 2011

April 29, 2011 - The Greene Space at WNYC

Download pdf of program

 Over a year has passed since the Supreme Court handed down Citizens United v. FEC, which stripped away basic safeguards against the influence of money in our politics. Even as the 2010 elections were flooded with secret money, basic responses to Citizens United were mired in partisan gridlock. Critically, voters, shareholders, and interest groups need to explore and develop new strategies for reform. This symposium, “Accountability After Citizens United,” explores various strategic “pressure points” across a number of institutional contexts: corporate governance structures, regulatory bodies, executive agencies, and interest groups. Our diverse group of speakers includes the Chair of the Federal Election Commission, a former Delaware judge, groundbreaking academics, public interest advocates and leaders from the bar. We hope that this gathering will be a way to cross-pollinate the most effective strategies to restore accountability to our democracy.

Read articles from the symposium in the Spring 2012 issue of NYU School of Law's Journal of Legislation and Public Policy.

Conference Program

Opening Remarks: Michael Waldman (Brennan Center for Justice) (transcript) (video)

Keynote: Chair Cynthia Bauerly (transcript) (video)

Panel 1: Can Shareholders Save Democracy? (transcript) (video)

Moderated by Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, with panelists William T. Allen, John Coates, Robert Jackson, Jennifer Taub

Citizens United raises a host of policy questions about the future structure of state corporate and federal securities laws. The decision treated all corporations—ranging from one-person S-corporations, to nonprofits, to multinational business corporations—as one and gave them all the same constitutional right to purchase political ads. But this treatment of different entities as if they are comparable may lead to unforeseen consequences. This tension is most apparent when publicly traded corporations are considered, because beneficial ownership and day-to-day management are divided and agency problems are likely to arise. How will the mechanisms of corporate democracy mesh with the new right of corporations to engage in broader democratic discourse? We will explore some of the corporate and securities law issues raised by Citizens United.

Lunchtime Remarks: Charlie Kolb (Committee for Economic Development) (transcript) (video)

Panel 2: Regulatory Pressure Points: New Strategies for Accountability (transcript) (video)

Moderated by Mimi Marziani, with panelists Ellen Aprill, Marc Elias, Bruce Freed, Holly Schadler

Despite the public’s anger at the new flood of dark money targeting our elections, Congress has failed to enact any reform. Indeed, there is little hope that our hyper-partisan and perpetually-gridlocked Congress will soon address the systems’ failings—particularly as the 2012 election season nears. Accordingly, this panel will identify non-legislative, strategic pressure points to facilitate enhanced accountability of political spending. We will discuss plans to use the administrative rule-making processes at the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Election Commission, and the Federal Communications Commission to give voters more salient information about political spending.

Panel 3:  The First Amendment Rights of Associations and Individuals (transcript) (video)

Moderated by Mark Ladov, with panelists Frances Hill, Dale Ho, Glenn Magpantay, Daniel Ortiz, Tobias Wolff

Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion in Citizens United relies on his definition of corporations as “associations of citizens” protected by the First Amendment. Yet Citizens United fails to consider the nature of associational rights in any meaningful way. This panel will consider the Supreme Court’s recent jurisprudence on associational rights, in order to understand and challenge the Court’s assumptions about the role of associations in democratic politics. For example, has the Court adequately protected the rights of an association’s members? What First Amendment rules are needed to ensure that corporations and other associations remain accountable to their members—and the public at large? Should different forms of association (such as unions, for-profit corporations and ideological non-profits) be governed by the same First Amendment rules? And most important: Can we steer this Court’s jurisprudence toward a more progressive and democratic understanding of the rights of individuals and the rights of associations in American politics?

Closing Remarks: Sanford Lewis (Strategic Counsel on Corporate Accountability) (transcript) (video)