I love anniversaries of many occasions. I love birthdays, which are perhaps the most fun kind of anniversary. And every year Franni and my wedding anniversary is a really, really big deal. When you’ve been married for 39 years, it certainly oughta be.
But the 5th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United is coming up later this month. Corporations, special interest groups, and people like the Koch brothers are probably beside themselves with happiness and preparing their 5 year (wooden?) anniversary gifts (I believe silverware is the modern gift).
But let me tell you — that’s one anniversary I will never, ever celebrate.
Citizens United has taken a place among the worst decisions in the history of the Supreme Court. It created just the kind of opportunity special interest groups and shadowy billionaires had been hoping for – a legal way to funnel tens, even hundreds of millions of dollars into American elections. And in many cases, the actors are completely anonymous.
Consider the numbers. 2008 was the last presidential election year before Citizens United, and outside groups spent about $338 million. In 2012 — the first presidential election of the Citizens United era — outside groups spent a staggering $1.03 billion on elections, and nearly all of that increase came from so-called “independent expenditures.”
The Supreme Court based its decision on the idea that spending by outside groups, including corporations, will not and cannot give rise to corruption — or even to the appearance of corruption. The Court shred decades of established law with that conclusion. And follow-up cases like SpeechNow.org v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC have led us even further down the unlimited-corporate-spending rabbit hole.
It’s been five years. In those five years, we’ve seen our elections get nastier, and we’ve watched the American people slide from skepticism of Washington to outright contempt. And I think they have every right to be upset — corporations pour money into politics, and the policy discussion takes a decidedly pro-corporate tilt, while the voices of middle class families are drowned out. If that’s not corruption, or at least the appearance of corruption, then I don’t know what is.
As long as Citizens United remains on the books, any campaign finance reforms will be half-measures. We will be lopping off the leaves of the weed, while its roots sink deeper and deeper.
So how do we get rid of Citizens United? Glad you asked.
We can wait until the Supreme Court overturns the case themselves. Which isn’t likely to happen. So let’s forget that. Congress can pass legislation or a constitutional amendment to overturn the effects of Citizens United. This is probably the best option, but it’s also going to take a long time to get through. We’re still working on it. But in the meantime – you could remind Congress how hard we’re willing to work to overturn Citizens United.
Citizens United has got to go, and we can’t rest until the job’s done. Until then, here’s to hoping that Citizens United doesn’t make it to its candy/iron anniversary.