Posts Tagged ‘Citizens United’

Welcome to the 2014 Meh-terms, America.

Sure, the attack ads are blanketing the airwaves, and sure, some guys from Kansas are spending millions for your vote, but all the mainstream media wants to talk about is how much no one actually cares about the midterms. America has had enough red meat rhetoric to send a grizzly bear into cardiac arrest, and that appears to be what has happened.

Steeped in nearly $4 billion dollars’ worth of campaign spending – most of it on vapid, sleazy campaign ads – it’s really no wonder that Americans are tuning out the midterms in droves.

To alleviate your despair, here’s an (almost) exhaustive list, in no particular order, of solutions to America’s big dumb, big-money elections.

1. Pass a Constitutional Amendment

The Supreme Court’s delusional ruling in Citizens United helped to demolish the last vestiges of sanity in the system that politicians use to finance their campaigns. For elections to be less dumb we have to make sure that everybody has a say in who gets elected, not just the people with $150 million dollars to blow on elections. The 28th Amendment would simply state that Congress has the authority to bar corporate spending in elections and place reasonable limits on campaign contributions and spending for the sake of leveling the playing field for those of us who aren’t pulling down nine figures this year.

2. The DISCLOSE Act

Organizations that do not disclose their donors, known as dark money groups, can spend millions to influence elections without disclosing to voters who is actually funding the ads. That sort of makes accountability hard to come by. The DISCLOSE Act would simply require organizations that spend $10,000 or more on election-related ads to disclose their donors.

3. Fair Elections Now Act / Democracy Is For People Act / Empowering Citizens Act

These bills would provide matching public funds to candidates who are able to collect large numbers of small donations. The first two would effect House and Senate Races, and the last one would be for both congressional and presidential races. Public financing would empower small donor by encouraging candidates to chat it up with regular people instead of spending four hours a day on the phone chasing millionaires (which can really skew your perspective on the important things in life).

4. Real Time Transparency Act

Nothing fancy here unless you count retiring filing cabinets and putting data on computers as fancy. The Real Time Transparency act would require campaigns, parties, and committees to disclose contributions on-line within 48 hours of receiving them. And before you tell me that this should already be a thing, please ruminate on the fact that in the year 2014 the Senate still files its contribution reports on paper.

5. Shareholder Protection Act

Don’t skip this one just because you’re not a well-heeled investment guru. The Shareholder Protection Act would require companies that spend money in elections to disclose that spending to their shareholders, which also includes anyone with a retirement account. And even if you don’t have a retirement account, no one likes to miss out on a good boycott.

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Below is my comment calling on the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to put an end to secret political spending by corporations and others attempting to tilt elections while evading accountability.

You should sign on to Public Citizen’s comment and submit your own personal comment too.

Why should the FEC listen to you?

Well, for starters, because the FEC is in charge of our federal election laws, and you are a voter. You might have noticed our election system is kind of a mess. It wasn’t great before the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United ruling – and it’s now so overrun with billionaire-backed sham campaigns and corporate sock puppet groups that it’s hard to believe any candidate capable of challenging rule by the One Percent can win.

So here’s the comment I submitted urging the FEC to require disclosure of political spending. It won’t fix everything – we need a constitutional amendment to carry things as far as we really need them to go – but it can, at least, fix something.

(And you can help by signing on to Public Citizen’s comment and submitting your own personal comment too.)

To the FEC:

How much are our elections being distorted by secret spending?

How many candidates don’t run because they don’t want to put their families through the horror show of ugly, unaccountable attacks?

And how many don’t run because they don’t want such attacks to occur on their behalf?

My sense is – and I think a lot of Americans would agree – that the kind of people who are so utterly disgusted by the mire of secret spending are the same kind of people who actually should be involved in politics.

Let’s be honest. You know the slash-and-burn political adds that dark money groups run don’t “inform” anyone – they shrink the electorate by making as many reasonable people as possible feel nothing but disgust and contempt for the process. If congressional approval ratings are any indication, they work. And with the electorate reduced to each party’s base of die-hard standard bearers, it’s no wonder nothing gets done. (I know you folks don’t have to look far to notice partisan gridlock causing inaction, do you?)

But of course the solicitation of comments for this rule is supposed to signify a change at the FEC, right? You’re working together to make some things happen now, right?

Too often, “bipartisanship” means Republicans and Democrats getting past their differences in order to dupe the public and deliver what corporate lobbyists want.

I hope the FEC’s new emphasis on working together is not that.

Here’s to hoping the FEC’s efforts really can result in new rules requiring disclosure of the corporations and individuals behind the dark money campaigns corrupting our elections.

If I didn’t believe it could make a difference, I wouldn’t be submitting this comment.

But after the past five years or so – especially since the Supreme Court’s appalling ruling in Citizens United v. FEC – it’s hard to imagine anyone who cares about our elections isn’t feeling at least a little bit cynical.

But cynical is better than hopeless.

And if you still think your agency is capable of addressing our dysfunctional elections, then by all means give it the best damn shot you can.

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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.

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.

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