Truthout - January 19, 2019
Ten years ago this week, the Supreme Court released its disastrous 2010 Citizens United decision.
The court, either through remarkable naivety or sheer malevolence, essentially married two terrible ideas: that “money equals speech” and that “corporations are people.” The ruling put a for sale sign on our democracy, opening up a flood of corporate, special interest, and even foreign money into our politics.
Through Citizens United and a collection of other terrible and related decisions, the Court made a bad situation worse. We saw the proliferation of super PACs, which can accept and spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections, and the rise of dark money, which is undisclosed political spending that can come from any special interest, even foreign countries.
In the 10 years since the decision, there’s been $4.5 billion in outside spending (spending from outside interest groups and not candidates for office) in elections, compared to $750 million spent in the 20 years prior to the case. From 2000-2008, there were only 15 federal races where outside spending exceeded candidate spending. In the same amount of time following Citizens United, this occurred in 126 races. Since the decision, almost half of all outside spending is dark money that has no or limited disclosure of its donors.
And that money is not coming from the farmers suffering through Donald Trump’s trade war or the fast-food workers fighting for a living wage. It’s coming from the wealthiest among us, people often with very different priorities than the majority of Americans. In fact, a full one-fifth of all super PAC donations in the past 10 years have come from just 11 people.
This has led to an unresponsive and dysfunctional government. We can’t make any progress on issues like gun safety, health care costs, or climate change. Politicians are in the pockets of their big donors. Foreign influence goes unreported and unchecked. And we’re left with the most corrupt president in American history, who’s embroiled in a series of scandals that threaten our prosperity, safety, and security.
To name just a few of these scandals: Trump urged a foreign country to investigate his political opponents. His lawyer’s “associates” illegally funneled money into his super PAC through a sham corporation. The National Rifle Association spent tens of millions of dollars in unreported “dark” money to elect him while also serving as a Russian asset.
Trump and his accomplices should be held accountable, through Congressional impeachment, the judicial process, or both. But we must also elect new leaders who will pass real, meaningful anti-corruption reforms.