Franken on Citizens United

Sen. Franken addressed Citizens United in his remarks at Elena Kagan’s nomination hearing.

In the early 1960s, car companies knew that they could avoid a large number of fatalities just by installing seat belts in every vehicle.  But they didn’t want to.  They said “safety doesn’t sell.”

But Congress didn’t listen to the car companies.  And so in 1966, Congress passed a law requiring that all passenger cars have seatbelts.

Since then, the fatality rate from car accidents has dropped 71 percent.

Here’s another story.  Around the same time that we passed the seatbelt law, people started to realize that the leaded gasoline that cars ran on was poisoning our air.  But oil companies didn’t want to take the lead out of gasoline.  Because altering their refineries was going to be, in the words of the Wall Street Journal, a “multi-billion dollar headache.”

But in 1970, Congress passed the Clean Air Act anyway.  And thanks in part to that law, by 1995, the percentage of children with elevated levels of lead in their blood had dropped by 84%.

Along with the Clean Water Act of 1972, the Clean Air Act of 1970 and the Motor Vehicle Safety Act are three of the pillars of modern consumer safety and environmental laws.

But here’s something else they have in common.  They were all passed around 60 days before an election.

Do you think those laws would have stood a chance if Standard Oil and GM could have spent millions of dollars advertising against vulnerable congressmen, by name, in the last months before their elections?

I don’t.

So here’s my point, General Kagan:  Citizens United isn’t just about election law.  It isn’t just about campaign finance.

It’s about seat belts.  It’s about clean air and clean water.  It’s about energy policy and the rights of workers and investors.  It’s about health care.  It’s about our ability to pass laws that protect the American people even if it hurts the corporate bottom line.

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