This is the first of a two-part posting on based on the CITIZENS United decision by the U. S. Supreme Court. The following is a basis upon which I raise this question.
Citizens United was the plaintiff in a Supreme Court case which began as a challenge to various statutory provisions of the “McCain-Feingold” law. The government argued that under existing precedents, it had the power under the constitution to prohibit the publication of books and movies if they were made or sold by corporations. On January 21, 2010, in a 5 to 4 conservative majority decision, the Supreme Court overturned the provision of McCain-Feingold barring corporations and unions from paying for political ads made independently of candidate campaigns. A minority 90-page dissent argued that the Court’s ruling “threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation. The path it has taken to reach its outcome will do damage to this institution.”
The Citizens United dissent concluded with:
“At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.”
By September 2010, Americans United for Life Action ran radio ads advocating that incumbent Democratic Members of Congress John Boccieri, Chris Carney, and Baron Hill be defeated for reelection. News reports at the time indicated that the ads were “among the first ads to capitalize” on the Supreme Court decision and thousands of dollars followed because all for Democrats lost to Republicans.
The Citizens United decision has created an environment in which it is perfectly legal for a shell non-profit corporation to engage in election-related unlimited spending on behalf of a hidden interest. These non-profit groups have become the tool to hide corporate election-related spending. For example, Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies (GPS) is a spin-off of Super PAC American Crossroads. By October 19, 2010, it had spent almost $8 million in eight Senate races on independent expenditures and electioneering communications opposing Democratic candidates. Another Republican-leaning outside group is American Future Fund that spent $12 million on independent expenditures and $1.4 on electioneering communications. Americans for Job Security, for example, spent over $4 million on independent expenditures opposing Democrats by October 2010. Thanks to Citizens United, it can use its general treasury funds, to include undisclosed contributions from the general treasuries of other corporations. IS AMERICA FOR SALE IN 2012?
During the 2010 elections, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, basically a conservative organization, spent $18 million on electioneering communications in House and Senate races across the country, and $75 million to help, with very limited exception, Republican candidates win on November 2. 2010. The Citizens United decision also allows the Chamber and other organization to withhold where all that money comes from.
Super (Political Action Committees) PACs, also known as Independent Expenditure-Only Committees, are a new breed of political organizations stemming from the Citizens United decision. Traditional PACs that make independent expenditures as well as contribute directly to candidates were prohibited from taking contributions from corporations and unions, and were limited in the amounts they could receive from individual donors. Super PACs, on the other hand, can receive unlimited funds from individuals, political committees, corporations and labor organizations if their purpose is only to make independent expenditures. More than two-dozen Independent Expenditure-Only Committees were registered with the Federal Elections Commission by October 15, 2010, and spending on independent expenditures exceeded $21 million.
The mother of all Super PACs is American Crossroads, a 527 political organization that accepts contributions and makes expenditures to influence elections. American Crossroads, with its ties to Karl Rove, spent nearly $12 million on eleven competitive Senate races and a handful of House races in 2010. All of its spending benefited Republican candidates, with the overwhelming majority being spent on ads attacking Democrats. IS AMERICA FOR SALE IN 2012?
PART II TOMORROW
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