Supreme Court decision has hurt U.S. political landscape
Published: Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 19:10
This year’s election cycle will be the most expensive in American history. Over one billion dollars has been spent on the presidential race alone. Part of the reason for this is the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. For the first time in 60 years, corporations and unions are allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money on directly advocating for certain politicians. This was a landmark decision that’s already changed the political landscape greatly, and not for the better.
In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations and unions have the same political contribution rights as individuals. Corporations and unions can advocate directly for certain politicians, provided their contributions do not go to a candidate’s personal campaign organization. This decision has led to the formation of Super Pacs, organizations not directly linked to candidates, but directly supportive of them. It’s already changed the way elections are financed.
In the 2012 election cycle, there has already been over $700 million in outside spending from Super Pacs and corporations. Anyone can donate to a Super Pac, but they exist to provide avenues of donation to the extremely wealthy, and those are their biggest contributors. In the 2008 presidential election, 44 percent of Barack Obama’s campaign was funded from individual contributions of $200 or less. A study published by the US Public Interest Research Group found that 94 percent of the total money given to the 947 Super Pacs active in this election came from 1,082 individual donations.
The basis for the constitutionality of Super Pacs is that they are “unaffiliated” with the candidates, but they’re separate in terms of paperwork alone. Politicians have their advisors set up the Super Pacs their supporters can donate to. Barack Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s Super Pacs are not supposed to work directly with the candidates, but they’re led respectively by a former White House advisor to Obama and the General Counsel for Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign. No one–including the media and the Federal Election commission–even expects the separation to be taken seriously.
Many people say that it doesn’t matter how much money a politician can raise because it doesn’t guarantee them the election, and this is true. Virtually any losing candidate for federal office can teach us that throwing around millions of dollars doesn’t mean you’ll be successful. Money offers no guarantees, but in an age when it takes 3 billion dollars to elect the president, you have no chance without it.
No matter how much money it takes to win an election, it does matter where that money comes from. The deregulation of campaign finance makes it impossible to win a major election without major backing. All the people who donate 20 bucks are not the most important contributors. Sure you need their votes, but your campaign doesn’t stand a chance without special interest money. If you don’t give big business an incentive to fund you, your opponent will. Corporations do not invest in elections for the same reasons as the rest of us. People donate small amounts of money out of pocket to support causes that they believe in. When a company makes a large donation to a political campaign, it’s a business investment. They expect returns and hold a politician accountable for their work in office. This is monetizing of politics in the most literal sense. The immense influence that big money has makes it almost impossible for politicians to work for anyone else.
This isn’t even the worst effect of the Citizens United ruling. While it left campaign funding disclosure laws intact, those laws don’t account for the fact that campaigns are funded in a whole new way. Organization classified as 501(c) 3, 4, 5 and 6-trade associations, charities, unions and Super Pacs are not required to disclose their donors.
Citizens United struck down some of the limits on campaign contributions, but it’s not like there wasn’t big money in politics before then. Mostly, it just gave up the ghost and said that no one was going to hold massive corporations accountable for their actions. With no disclosure laws, corporations and unions are free to do whatever they want without having to worry about backlash. Nondisclosure also eliminates one of the few incentives politicians had not to take special interest money.
This decision was made under the guise of preserving civil liberties, but it’s not beneficial to the average voter, or even designed to benefit voters. Citizens United protects corporations who want to exert more control over legislation and politicians who want to take more special interest money without suffering the repercussions for it.
It’s clear that individuals deserve the right to privacy in their political affiliations, but corporations and unions exert a different kind of power and have different motives. The American people deserve to know who owns their politicians. When it takes millions of dollars to elect someone to office, campaign disclosure laws are an absolute necessity. The last thing our politicians need is less accountability.