ATTORNEYS UNITED: With 2010 campaign spending predicted to top $5 billion—almost twice what was spent in 2006—it’s clear the Supreme Court’s decision to remove restraints on corporate spending has created a scenario where “big money” is moving to monopolize the democratic discourse. The need for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United v. FEC could not be more urgent. But is it practical? A bipartisan group that includes a half-dozen former state attorneys general and dozens of the nation’s leading legal scholars says yes.
A letter by the group to the House and Senate Judiciary Committee chairs argues that “the Supreme Court’s creation of corporate ‘speech’ rights on which the Citizens United decision rests is contrary to the First Amendment as we understand it.” Former Massachusetts Attorneys General Frank Bellotti and Scott Harshbarger, former Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager and other former state and federal prosecutors (including author Scott Turow) are joining Derrick Bell, Charles Ogletree and other academics to declare that Citizens United “was not only wrongly decided but presents a serious danger to effective self-government of, for and by the American people, a danger which must be addressed.”
The letter, which was organized by Free Speech for People and People for the American Way, concludes that Congress must “explore all potential remedies, including proposals for a 28th Amendment to the Constitution to protect our democracy and self-government of the people.” This represents the loudest call yet from the legal community for consideration of a constitutional amendment to prevent corporate cash from stifling democracy. JOHN NICHOLS
BRIDGE FUEL TO NOWHERE: Until recently the debate surrounding the surge in natural gas drilling has focused almost entirely on the hazards of hydraulic fracturing. But it’s not only fracking we should be worried about; it’s the whole process. The latest case in point is the September 9 explosion of a Pacific Gas and Electric pipeline in San Bruno, California, which killed eight people and destroyed more than thirty homes.
Like the BP oil spill, the PG&E explosion has revealed a longstanding pattern of industry negligence and impunity, along with profound lapses in federal and state oversight. According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, since 1986 PG&E has had 132 “significant incidents” with its natural gas pipelines, resulting in eighteen deaths, sixty-four injuries and $41 million in property damage. Over the past five years alone, pipeline mishaps in the United States have killed sixty and injured 230.
In the wake of the explosion, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein have set out to rein in at least one aspect of the fast-growing industry. On September 22 the two introduced legislation that would tighten pipeline safety standards, double the number of federal inspectors and increase penalties for safety violations.
Meanwhile, the EPA is conducting a review of hydraulic fracturing, due out in 2012, that will assess the risks of deep shale drilling on water supplies and public health. And the FRAC Act, introduced in the Senate by Robert Casey and now in committee, would repeal the industry’s exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act and require oil and gas companies to disclose the chemicals they use to frack wells. Natural gas has been billed as a cleaner alternative to coal and oil, the bridge fuel to the future. Increasingly, however, it is looking like a lot of other big promises—namely, a bridge fuel to nowhere. ADAM FEDERMAN