Campaign finance is a decidedly boring esoteric topic. The heart of the issue is often shrouded with numbers, names and buzzwords that, to the uninitiated, do not mean much of anything. Underneath all the jargon, however, lies a legitimately troubling reality that President Barack Obama referred to as a “threat to democracy.”
The Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2010 is indeed a threat to America’s democratic principles and a decision the Supreme Court would be wise to readdress.
Thanks to the ruling, outside entities such as unions, corporations and individuals can donate unlimited amounts of money to a new brand of political action committees called super PACs, which, while not legally allowed to coordinate with campaigns, can spend that money on ads attacking other candidates.
Campaign advertisements are a main source of information about politicians for many Americans and, with the backing of super PACs, candidates now have unlimited money with which to produce and air advertisements in key locations.
While super PACs are technically not allowed to coordinate with campaigns, they are almost always associated with a specific candidate. For example, the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future has a board of directors that includes Charles Spies, Carl Forti and Larry McCarthy, all of whom served on Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign in some capacity.
The implications of this decision are unfathomable at this point. Billionaire Sheldon Adelson has already donated $10 million to the pro-Romney super PAC and tossed out the possibility of donating another $100 million on top of that. The most unnerving aspect of these super PACs is that there are no limits to how much money can be raised, meaning the influence of corporations in policymaking will only increase going forward.
Republicans in Congress have already struck down a law proposing to end tax breaks for corporations that outsource jobs. These same corporations are benefiting politicians in unprecedented ways, so you can expect a whole lot more where that came from.
Democrats are just as guilty of forming and benefiting from super PACs as Republicans. After condemning the Citizens United decision, Obama has been associated with Priorities USA Action, a Democratic super PAC. The Democrats’ “if you can’t beat them, join them” approach toward the issue of super PACs is indicative of a larger complacency that exists among Democratic lawmakers in Washington, D.C.
Attempts to increase transparency in campaign finance have been thus far unsuccessful. The 2010 Disclose Act, a bill sponsored by New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, would require super PACs contributing in excess of $10,000 to campaign related expenditures to disclose the identities of their donors, but it has been filibustered numerous times by Senate Republicans. Even if the bill does eventually pass, however, nothing will change about who can fund super PACs or how much can be given. All we’ll know is who exactly is buying our elections.
In 1976, charges were brought upon 18 corporations for contributing illegally to former President Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign. Had those same corporations contributed that money to a modern day super PAC, they would be in full accordance with federal law.
American campaign finance laws are moving in a dangerous backwards direction and it is time to take a hard stance against the influence of corporations in politics. Rather than looking for loopholes to legalize corruption, we should be prosecuting it. Repealing Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission would be a brilliant start.