Posts Tagged ‘Citizens United’

By: Robert Weissman

The Republicans have their billionaires, the Democrats have theirs. What’s the big kerfuffle about campaign spending, right?

Wrong.

As it happens, the Republican Party is benefiting more, by far, from the spending abuses authorized by U.S. Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) and this year’s McCutcheon v. FEC. But more important than tallying who is more sullied by Big Money is addressing the systemic problem of corporate and super-rich dominance of our elections.

That’s why the U.S. Senate vote this week on a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and restore our democracy is so important, and why it’s so important that the Democracy for All Amendment be adopted as the 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

First, the facts. Campaign spending has exploded since the Citizens United decision was handed down in 2010. The most important effect of Citizens United was to permit corporations and the super-rich to spend unlimited sums to influence elections, as long as their contributions go to outside groups, not directly to candidates. As a result, reported outside spending tripled from 2008 to 2012. Spending this year is sure to blow away previous records for a mid-term election. Pro-Republican outside spending was more than double the amount of pro-Democratic spending in 2012, and is running ahead again this election cycle. There was still more than $300 million spent in favor of Democrats, so the problem is definitely bipartisan, but it’s not equal.

Dark money – the undisclosed money channeled through trade associations and social welfare organizations – has skyrocketed since 2010. From almost 100 percent disclosure of outside spending in 2006, we’re now below 50 percent. Undisclosed money – much of it channeled through Koch Brother-affiliated organizations, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS – overwhelmingly favors Republicans. In 2012, the margin was 7-1 ($265 million versus $35 million).

The McCutcheon decision held unconstitutional the previous limit on how much an individual can contribute in total to candidates, parties and political committees. Already, in 2014, as of 58 people have contributed $100,000 or more to joint fundraising committees. Fifty-one of them directed all of those joint fundraising committee donations to Republicans.

All that said, the problem of Big Money in politics is bipartisan – or, better stated, and more disturbingly so, it is systemic. More than ever, candidates have to devote their time to raising money – Georgia Democratic senate candidate Michelle Nunn’s advisors urged her to spend 80 percent of her time on fundraising until the final month of the campaign – and that means their spending their time with and talking to the small fraction of the population that can write big checks. Elected officials in both parties owe allegiance to their deep-pocketed donors and the giant outside spenders. And every elected official knows that, if they choose to upset powerful corporate interests, they may have to face a multi-million dollar negative advertising campaign in the next election.

The result is that the giant corporations and super-rich have more easy and direct influence in Washington, D.C., than any time since the Gilded Age.

This week’s vote on a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and restore our democracy is anything but a “distraction” or partisan diversion, as some opponents have said. The vote is as important as any the Congress will take this year, because the deep corruption of our politics induced by Big Money control of our elections is blocking progress on almost every issue of importance to the American people: creating jobs, raising the minimum wage, adopting a fair tax system, passing a federal budget that serves the broad interests of the America people, winning fair trade rules, preventing catastrophic climate change, addressing wealth and income inequality, ensuring healthcare for all, and much more.

Billionaires on each side of the aisle do not cancel each other out. They comprise plutocracy.

A democracy – a government of, by and for the people – demands that every person count equally, that the super-rich do not gain super influence by virtue of their wealth and spending. We can restore that democracy – and we must – with the Democracy for All Amendment.

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This weekend I was honored to speak at the 2014 Public Interest Environmental Law Conference at the University of Oregon along with my colleague Scott Nelson. My presentation is here, and it details how hundreds of millions of dollars were spent by SuperPACs and other dark money groups focusing on ads and other strategies to attack EPA regulations and/or promote expanded fossil fuel production. While some wealthy climate activists, like Tom Steyer, are trying to keep up with the Koch’s and other fossil fuel-backed spenders, it’s clear that the solution is not trying to match them in an arms race, but rather focus on building the grassroots. For example, the amazing activists protesting the Keystone XL pipeline have, despite no big money ad campaign, managed to force the President to frequently address what otherwise would be an obscure pipeline permitting process. This kind of inspiring feat is what Steyer should be building, rather than spending $100 million on pricey consultants, advertising agencies and TV stations. In the meantime, let’s support Public Citizen’s Democracy is for People campaign to get unregulated corporate money out of our political system.

Tyson Slocum is Director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program. Follow him on Twitter @TysonSlocum

Plutocracy or democracy; the rich or the rest of us; legalized bribery or law and order; corruption or common sense.

The choice facing the U.S. Supreme Court today in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission could not be clearer.

If the court decides to strike down limits on what an individual can give directly to candidates, parties and PACs, the real-world impact is plain enough. A few hundred people will be empowered to spend millions to buy elections.

We will see a rise in corruption both as the public understands the term – meaning the entire political system will shift still more to favor the super-rich – and as the Supreme Court defines it – meaning quid pro quo corruption.

There is reason to hope the court will decide to uphold current giving limits. Striking down the aggregate limit rule will require abandoning the underpinnings of Buckley v. Valeo, the foundation of current campaign spending law.

So, we must hope the court respects precedent and common sense.

But we shouldn’t have to hope. That’s why it’s time for a constitutional amendment to restore our democracy – an amendment that firmly establishes the people’s right to control campaign spending and ensure that we maintain a government of, by and for the people – not the superwealthy and giant corporations.

Editor’s note: See Robert Weissman speaking outside the Supreme Court today. View photos of the event.

Note: On July 25, U.S. Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and David Price (D-N.C.) submitted an amicus curiae, or “friend-of-the-court,” brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in defense of the Federal Election Commission in this case. Public Citizen Attorney Scott Nelson and former U.S. Solicitor General Seth Waxman are leading their team of attorneys.

McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (FEC), a case whose impact on our political system could be as damaging as Citizens United, is headed for the U.S. Supreme Court tomorrow, Oct. 8, and it could dramatically boost the corrupting influence of the wealthy over candidates in federal elections.

In the case, the justices will consider whether to eliminate the limit on the total sum that people can give directly to candidates and political parties in a single election. The current overall limit for an individual making direct contributions to parties, political action committees (PACs) and federal candidates is $123,200 per two-year election cycle, but a win for the challengers in McCutcheon could allow total contributions above $7 million.

The case is being heard just a few years after the highly controversial Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, in which the court gave corporations the green light to spend unlimited sums to influence elections. That decision, the biggest game-changer to date in a long-term effort by corporate interests to kill campaign finance laws, led to unprecedented spending by the wealthy and corporations in the 2010 midterm congressional elections and last year’s presidential elections. It also sparked a robust movement, led in part by Public Citizen, for a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision. Depending on how the justices rule, McCutcheon could be the next game-changer.

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By Darci Kovacs

In order to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, Public Citizen is pushing for a constitutional amendment to limit spending in elections. Already, the fight to get corporate money out of politics has 16 states on its side – almost half the number of states it would take to ratify an amendment.

Now, after an intensely successful two months—with Oregon, Delaware, West Virginia, Maine and Illinois all backing a constitutional amendment—Public Citizen is taking the fight to overturn Citizens United to Congress for the rest of the summer.

So far, 111 lawmakers have co-sponsored such an amendment in this legislative session. But, 111 does not come close to the 67-vote supermajority in the Senate and 290-vote supermajority in the House of Representatives necessary to pass one.

So in the next month, Public Citizen’s Democracy is For People campaign is taking the momentum from the states that have backed an amendment and calling or visiting lawmakers who have failed to co-sponsor a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.

To get lawmakers on board, we need your help.

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