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Truthout - December 29, 2019

“This is perhaps the most troubling result ofCitizens United***: in a time of historic wealth inequality,” report author Daniel Weiner wrote, “the decision has helped reinforce the growing sense that our democracy primarily serves the interests of the wealthy few and that democratic participation for the vast majority of citizens is of relatively little value.”***

The election of President Donald Trump will likely define this decade, but the breakdown in our political system which sowed deeper partisan divisions and ultimately paved the way for his White House victory can be traced back to a single January day almost exactly ten years ago.

On Jan. 21, 2010, then-Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy cast the deciding vote in the Citizens United case, which was brought by a group chaired by David Bossie, who would later serve as Trump’s deputy campaign manager.

Kennedy wrote in the majority decision that limits on independent expenditures violated the First Amendment rights of corporations and other groups, effectively overturning spending restrictions dating back more than a century.

The decision allowed corporations to spend unlimited money on campaign ads as long as they did not formally coordinate with candidates or political parties. According to Kennedy, there could not be corruption, because “an independent expenditure is political speech presented to the electorate that is not coordinated with a candidate.”

Some have argued that the ruling was the “logical next step” after the court’s 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision, which said election spending limits may violate the First Amendment. But the Supreme Court ruled in favor of corporate limits in 1990 and then upheld limits on corporate and union spending in 2003.

The Citizens United ruling was later compounded by Republican efforts to block transparency rules, Federal Election Commission rulings and further court decisions like McCutcheon v. FEC, paving the way for the creation of super PACs, or committees which can spend unlimited sums of money to promote or oppose candidates while hiding the identities of their donors.

The impact of the Citizens United ruling and subsequent campaign finance changes are undeniable. In 2010, the biggest Republican donor of the election cycle spent $7.6 million to support conservative candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CPR). Just eight years later, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, donated $122 million to support GOP candidates, or more than 15 times as much.

Democrats pumped big money into elections, too. Presidential contender Mike Bloomberg spent $95 million during the last election cycle, while fellow billionaire candidate Tom Steyer spent more than $73 million, according to CPR data.

There was certainly loads of money pumped into elections prior to Citizens United. The 2008 presidential election, which was the last national contest before the Supreme Court decision, saw about $338 million in outside spending. But the amount of outside cash injected into the presidential race skyrocketed to more than $1 billion in 2012 and $1.4 billion in 2016.

Such massive expenditures are not limited to presidential races. The 2018 midterm election cycle was the first in history to see more than $1 billion in outside spending — up from $69 million just four cycles earlier and $567 million in 2014, according to the CPR.

Super PACs quickly became the biggest outside spenders. In 2018, the House Republican-linked Congressional Leadership Fund spent $136 million, the Senate Democratic-aligned Senate Majority PAC spent $112 million and the Mitch McConnell-connected Senate Leadership Fund spent $94 million, according to the CPR.

Though both parties have raised and spent hundreds of millions in outside money — and the Citizens United ruling has been criticized by both former President Barack Obama and Trump — researchers at the University of Chicago, Columbia University and the London School of Economics and Political Science found that the rise of dark money has resulted in a huge advantage for Republicans in state legislature races, particularly in “states with weak unions.” ...
Read full report at Truthout