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Citizens United still undermines democracy; here’s why

Citizens United protest
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In a recent column, Democrats complained about Citizens United until the cash rolled in, David Weisberg claims that Democrats have stopped opposing – or at least publicly condemning – Citizens United.

He also suggests that the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision was not the blow to democracy that had been predicted. Weisberg is off the mark in both regards.

There’s no doubt that Citizens United has flooded our politics with an overwhelming and corrosive tide of outside money flowing from billionaires and special interests. It’s given a handful of people outsized influence on our elections and our government.

In an attempt to minimize the impact of Citizens United, Weisberg ignores basic realities about campaign finance. He fails to address “dark money,” which anonymous donors pass through tax-exempt organizations to influence elections.

{mosads}In addition to paving the way for Super PACs, Citizens United helped open the door to an enormous surge of dark money spending over the last six years. While we can’t tabulate how much dark money was spent in this election (partially because of its secret nature), up to $200 million was reportedly pledged in support of President-elect Trump. One of the key organizers of that effort, Todd Ricketts, has since been announced as Trump’s nominee for Deputy Secretary of Commerce.

Further, Weisberg cherry-picks his numbers to build a case that Citizens United and related decisions do not affect electoral outcomes. Most notably, he disregards down-ballot races, where outside spending can have a greater effect.

According to a Sunlight Foundation analysis, in the 2016 cycle, Republican Senate candidates and Super PACs had outspent their Democratic competitors $461 million to $374 million through Nov. 4 (four days before the election).

This number does not even include the $750 million spent by the Koch Brothers’ pro-Republican dark money networkand the more than $40 million spent by the Mitch McConnell-backed dark money group One Nation, much less the additional millions spent by Super PACs and dark money groups in U.S. House races as well as in state and local races.

In sum, the Big Money problem in our politics is far bigger than Weisberg acknowledges, and it helped Republicans swamp voters with ads and preserve their majorities in Congress.

Similarly, Weisberg’s claim that “we almost never hear about Citizens United in political rhetoric” could not be further from the truth. Democratic candidates from the top to the bottom of the ticket discussed the importance of getting big money out of our elections and overturning Citizens United.

Both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton made overturning Citizens United major planks in their campaigns – including calls for a constitutional amendment and pledges to appoint a Supreme Court justice who understands the damage the decision has caused to our democracy.

In a New Hampshire Senatorial debate, Senator-elect Maggie Hassan called for the reversal of Citizens United, saying, “I support overturning Citizens United, which is the decision that says corporations are people. I don’t think corporations are people. I don’t think they should be able to bring all this dark money spending into our state.”

In Nevada, polling showed that swing voters responded more favorably to a pro-campaign finance reform message than they did to a more “standard” Democratic message.  That reform emphasis helped elect Catherine Cortez Masto, who said, “We need to overturn Citizens United, so we can ensure the people elected to represent us are looking out for ordinary people, not their billionaire special interests.”

In this election, more than 3 million Americans took action to end Citizens United, including 1.5 million who signed their names in support of a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision. A huge majority of Americans, regardless of political party, agree that the proliferation of unlimited, secret money in our politics is a critical problem. Overturning Citizens United continues to be a rallying cry for reform-minded Democrats, as Republicans continue to block efforts to fix the system at every stage.  We will continue the fight to get Big Money out of our politics, and we’ll hold President Trump accountable to his promise to “drain the swamp.”

Tiffany Muller is the President and Executive Director of End Citizens United, a grassroots-funded campaign finance reform group dedicated to overturning Citizens United and ending the use of dark money and Super PACs.

The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.









Tags Bernie Sanders Campaign finance Citizens United dark money Hillary Clinton Mitch McConnell
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