AFL-CIO Trumka: Electoral Process ‘Broken’ by Supremes in Citizens United Case

By Matt Cover | May 20, 2011 | 4:58 PM EDT

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka (AP Photo)

( – AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said that the U.S. electoral process has been broken by the Supreme Court with its ruling in the Citizens United campaign finance case.

Trumka, speaking at a National Press Club luncheon on Friday said the Supreme Court had helped to break the American electoral system by ruling that corporations were covered by the First Amendment.

The Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in Citizens United vs. the FEC lifted restrictions on companies, unions, and other organizations, allowing them to make independent expenditures in political campaigns.

Speaking on union involvement in federal elections, Trumka said that the landmark decision put unions at a disadvantage.

“If you want to look at the system, the system is broken,” he said. “The Supreme Court helped break it even more with Citizens United. The system needs to be changed so that average, ordinary Americans can have as strong a voice as ExxonMobil does in the Congress.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United allows corporations to spend an unlimited amount of money advocating for candidates and causes during elections, though they are still prohibited from giving directly to candidates.

The ruling also allowed unlimited election spending by unions, which previously had been subject to the same limits as corporations.

Trumka said the entire campaign finance system needed an “overhaul,” starting at the Supreme Court itself.

“The campaign finance laws need to be changed, so I for one would be for an overhaul,” he said. “I’d start at the Supreme Court probably because they believe that money equals free speech. That’s what their decision said.”

Trumka also said that the Founding Fathers did not intend for financial ability to equal someone’s ability to speak freely. He also called for a more “rational” system that would restore “government of the people.”

“We need to take on the system and change it and make it more rational so we can have again government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” said Trumka.

Earlier this year, the Obama administration leaked a draft executive order that would have restricted campaign financing by companies that contract with the government, requiring them to disclose on their contracting applications whether they or any of their top employees made political contributions and the amounts of those contributions. Unions were not included in this order, even though many federal employees are unionized.

During his 2010 State of the Union address to Congress, Obama chided the Supreme Court for its decision in Citizens United.

“Last week [Jan. 21, 2010], the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests -- including foreign corporations -- to spend without limit in our elections,” Obama said. “Well, I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that’s why I’m urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong.”