Page 22 - Soundwave Magazine
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 LEGISLATIVE UPDATE:
ON CAPITOL HILL (CONT’D)
  Hillary Clinton too close to the presidential primaries. A 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court sided with Citizens United, ruling that corpora- tions and other outside groups can spend unlimited money on elections.
In the court’s opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that limit- ing “independent political spending” from corporations and other groups violates the First Amendment right to free speech. The justices who voted with the majority assumed that independent spending cannot be cor- rupt and that the spending would be transparent, but both assumptions have proven to be incorrect.
With its decision, the Supreme Court overturned election spending restrictions that date back more than 100 years. Previously, the court had upheld certain spending restrictions, arguing that the government had a role in preventing corruption. But in Citizens United, a bare majority of the justices held that “independent political spending” did not present a substantive threat of corruption, provided it was not coordinated with a candidate’s campaign.
As a result, corporations can now spend unlimited funds on campaign advertising if they are not formally “coordinating” with a candidate or political party.
How has Citizens United changed elections in the United States? The ruling has ushered in massive increases in political spending from outside groups, dramatically expand- ing the already outsized political influence of wealthy donors, corpora- tions, and special interest groups.
In the immediate aftermath of the decision, analysts focused much of their attention on how the Supreme Court designated corporate spending on elections as free speech. But perhaps the most significant outcomes of the law have been the creation of super PACs, which empower the wealthiest donors, and the expansion of dark money through shadowy nonprofits that don’t disclose their donors.
A Brennan Center report by Daniel I. Weiner pointed out that a very small group of Americans now wield “more power than at any time since Watergate, while many of the rest seem to be disengaging from politics.“ This is perhaps the most troubling result of Citizens United: in a time of historic wealth inequality,” wrote Weiner, “the decision has helped reinforce the growing sense that our democracy primarily serves the interests of the wealthy few, and that democratic participation for the vast majority of citizens is of relatively little value.” An election system that is skewed heavily toward wealthy donors also sustains racial bias and reinforces the racial wealth gap. The law also unleashed political spending from special interest groups.
Political action committees, or “PACs,” are organizations that raise and spend money for campaigns that support or oppose political candidates, legislation, or ballot initiatives. Traditional PACs are permitted to donate directly to a candidate’s official campaign, but they are also subject to contribution limits, both in terms of what they can receive from individuals and what they can give to candidates. For example, PACs are only permitted to contribute up to $5,000 per year to a candidate per election.
In the 2010 case Speechnow.org v. FEC, however, a federal appeals court ruled — applying logic from Citizens United — that outside groups could accept unlimited contributions from both individual donors and corporations as long as they don’t give directly to candidates. Labeled “super PACs,” these outside groups were still permitted to spend money on independently produced ads and on other communications that promote or attack specific candidates.
In other words, super PACs are not bound by spending limits on what they can collect or spend. Additionally, super PACs are required to disclose their donors, but those donors can include dark money groups, which make the original source of the donations unclear. And while super PACs are technically prohibited from coordinating directly with candidates, weak coordination rules have often proven ineffective.
Super PAC money started influencing elections almost immediately after Citizens United. From 2010 to 2018, super PACs spent approximately $2.9 billion on federal elections. Notably, the bulk of that money comes from just a few wealthy individual donors. In the 2018
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