By Tiffany Muller
Ten years ago, in January 2010, the Supreme Court released its disastrous Citizens United decision. The court, either through remarkable naivety or sheer malevolence, essentially married the terrible idea that “money is speech” to the terrible idea that “corporations are people.”
The ruling put a for sale sign on our democracy, opening up a flood of corporate, special interest, and even foreign money into our politics.
Through Citizens United and related decisions, the Court made a bad situation worse. We saw the proliferation of super PACs, which can accept and spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections, and the rise of dark money, which is undisclosed political spending that can come from any special interest, including foreign countries.
In the 10 years since the decision, there’s been $4.5 billion in political spending by outside interest groups, compared to $750 million spent in the 20 years prior to the case.
From 2000-2008, there were only 15 federal races where outside spending exceeded candidate spending. In the same amount of time following Citizens United, this occurred in 126 races. Now, almost half of all outside spending is dark money that has no or limited disclosure of its donors.
That money isn’t coming from the farmers suffering through Donald Trump’s trade war or the fast-food workers fighting for a living wage. It’s coming from the wealthiest donors, people often with very different priorities than the majority of Americans. In fact, a full one-fifth of all super PAC donations in the past 10 years have come from just 11 people.
This has led to an unresponsive and dysfunctional government. With so many politicians in the pockets of their big donors, it’s been even harder to make progress on issues like gun safety, health care costs, or climate change.
Not to mention, we’re left with the most corrupt president in American history, who’s embroiled in a series of scandals that threaten our prosperity, safety, and security.
To name just a few of these scandals: Trump urged a foreign country to investigate his political opponents. His lawyer’s “associates” funneled money into Trump’s super PAC through a sham corporation. The National Rifle Association spent tens of millions of dollars in unreported “dark” money to elect him while allegedly serving as a Russian asset.
Trump and his accomplices should be held accountable, through congressional impeachment, the judicial process, or both. But we also need meaningful anti-corruption reforms.
Thanks to a class of reformers elected in 2018, we’ve already begun that process. Last year, the House of Representatives passed the For the People Act (H.R. 1).
H.R. 1 would strengthen ethics rules and enforcement; reduce the influence of big money while empowering individual, small-dollar donors; and, along with a bill to restore the Voting Rights Act, protect every American’s right to vote. It also calls for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.
Sadly, this bill is being blocked by Mitch McConnell in the Senate.
These reforms are all popular with the American people. We can unrig the system and restore that faith by fighting for these priorities, and by pressuring elected officials to act. Join groups like End Citizens United or Let America Vote to push back against our rigged system and put people ahead of corporate special interests.
Together, we can restore trust in government, prevent corruption, strengthen our national security, and ensure Washington truly works for the people.
Tiffany Muller is the president of End Citizens United. Follow her at @Tiffany_Muller. This op-ed was adapted from Inequality.org.
Franklin J. Clair says
While I agree with much she’s written the author seems to have a liberal, anti Trump agenda. This definitely turns me off to what she’s espousing.
Michele odonnell says
I wish I could get my head around the word liberal
What to be open caring and thoughtful of another human being
Well you can call me liberal every day of the week
Anti trump to reveal fact
Or should we accept the lie at every turn of the road
I feel lost in my own country turning the clock back 50year is unrecognizable to me
A label for everything. If your that you can’t be this
We are now all just lost in space
Maybe the next hurricane will just wipe us all off the map
Maybe then we will all be equal
hurricane can just wipe us off the map
A Concerned Observer says
I totally agree with this commenter. Allowing those with bottomless pockets buy our political and legal system for their own procial agenda should be, and MUST BE stopped, but adding her bile against President Trump to her rant has no part in this issue.
Mike Cocchiola says
Citizens United made America an oligarchy. Trump made an authoritarian regime. Next is a fascist takeover right here in America. We thought it couldn’t happen here. And while we were distracted by up to 30,000 tweets, we have all the makings of a dictatorship.
Thank you, Mitch McConnell and the Trump Republicans.
Brandon Cross says
Curious… when Citizens United decision was made 10 years ago…
Was the Supreme Court majority liberals or conservative?
Even more curious…so you are happy with every decision that is in your favor. Yet when any decision that you don’t agree with is egregious.
Certainly seems you think everything should be decided the way YOU feel is right…
Have to love Democracy…
Yet things don’t happen as you, an individual would like…
Please…Please debate me on this.
Pierre Tristam says
The commenter often gets basic facts wrong. The court in 2010 consisted of Chief Justices Roberts, Justices Scalia, Alito, Thomas and Kennedy, none of whom have ever been considered “liberal,” and Stevens, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Breyer, only one of whom could be termed “liberal” in the sense that, say, Brandeis or Brennan were liberals. The others are centrists. That said, the vote breakdown on Citizens was not black and white, with all nine justices aligning together on some parts of the decision, though the controversial parts did break along a 5-4 split.
Pierre, what you stated can only be considered YOUR opinion and not fact. It seems as though we are NOW in a time where if someone states it in writing then it MUST be true and factual. When doing even a little research it is clear that Roberts, Scalia Alito & Thomas are all considered conservative justices BUT even though Kennedy was a conservative he leaned more towards the liberal side for the last half of his tenure. Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Breyer are all liberal justices with Stevens leaning more liberal than conservative. Granted justices can and do cross over depending on the case at hand. But in regards to 10 years ago I have to agree with Brandon that the 9 justices would have been split 5-4 Liberal to conservative.
Since then, step right up and buy a politician. Corrupt America at its best.
WOW, what a left wing article as are a lot of them.
Just another bunch of bullshit by a Trump hater! I never get tired of reading stuff like this from left wing liberals who have been “infected” with TDS. They conveniently have forgotten everything that has happened with past presidencies like it never happened. ROTFLMFAO!!!
@It is what it is
creation of the Citizens United decision explained
@POGO – you REALLY need to learn how to use the website called TinyURL.com
She is so wrong, what screwed over the Democrats is a poor untrustworthy candidate. Maybe at the next presidential election there will be a democratic candidate that people ( who were registered democrats) will vote for instead of Trump. .
Cut to the chase….selling a democracy to big money is simply wrong.