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VoteCitizens United v. FEC  — the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision holding that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited amounts in elections — turns five next week.

In recognition of this “milestone,” Reuters has a cogent explanation of the 5-4 decision and the havoc that’s followed.

Points that can’t be emphasized enough:

  • Outside spending has since dwarfed that of candidates and political parties.

In the wake of Citizens United, there has been an explosion in spending by outside interests the likes of which we have never seen before. They have spent almost $2 billion in total since the ruling five years ago.

Below the presidential level, this spending was largely concentrated in a handful of close races in key battleground states. Outside groups now routinely outspend both candidates and parties in pivotal races.

  • Individual “mega-donors” now control elections, while the rest of us barely matter.

Since 2010, the top 195 individual donors to Super PACs and their spouses gave nearly 60 percent of the total that Super PACs spent — many times the amount contributed by business corporations.

All this is happening as ordinary Americans are giving less to political campaigns. In 2014, the number of reported federal contributors (those giving $200 or more) dropped for the first time in decades. Small donations are also down.

During this time of historic wealth inequality, individual mega-donors have more clout than at any point since Watergate. While these few voices are now much louder, many others are increasingly muffled.

  • Elections are now opaque as dark money has exploded.

While federal candidates and political parties are required to disclose all their donors above $200, outside groups need only do so if they qualify as political action committees (PACs). Since the Citizens United ruling, 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organizations and other groups have emerged to spend money in elections. They do not register as PACs, and they can keep all their donors secret. This is the dark money that has influenced many races. Donors who want to spend six or seven figures in elections without being identified funnel their money through these groups.

[Dark money] played a critical role in Republicans winning the Senate in November. Consider, dark money accounted for fully 89 percent of all outside spending to support Cory Gardner, the winner in Colorado, 86 percent to support David Perdue, the winner in Georgia, and 81 percent for Thom Tillis, the winner in North Carolina.

Commentary

As North Carolina endures the absurd, never-ending ad blitz of a U.S. Senate campaign, here are two quick, must reads that explain: 1) just how far out of hand the wholesale sell-off of our democracy to the top 1% has gotten and 2) what we ought to be doing about it.

Number One is a great, interactive post from the the Center for Public Integrity entitled “Who’s buying the Senate?”  If you follow the link, you can check out a partial list if who is paying (sort of anyway) for the remarkable flood of thousands of junk TV ads (there have already been nearly 50,000 of them on TV  in North Carolina (not including local cable and many other media).

Meanwhile, Number Two is this editorial from yesterday’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch that tells you what we ought to be doing to rein in this situation and reclaim control of our democracy – namely, pass the “Democracy for All” amendment that would reestablish the constitutionality of limits on campaign finance.  The editorial is entitled “While America sleeps, plutocrats are stealing its government.” To quote:

Thanks to a series of wretched decisions by the Supreme Court, effective political speech now belongs only to those who can afford it. What’s more, donors can easily keep their names secret.

The court has ruled that money is a form of speech that cannot be abridged. But as Justice John Paul Stevens wrote so succinctly in 2000, upholding Missouri’s campaign finance limits, “Money is property; it is not speech….”

Given the sordid record of the Rehnquist and Roberts courts on campaign finance issues, Democratic Sens. Tom Udall of New Mexico and Michael Bennet of Colorado saw the obvious solution as amending the Constitution to make it clear that democracy is not plutocracy. But that requires the cooperation of the party that benefits from the status quo. When Mr. Udall needed a Republican co-author for an op-ed commentary about his amendment, he had to go Alan Simpson of Wyoming, who retired from the Senate in 1997.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other agents of the plutocrats are couching the vote on SJR 19 as a free-speech issue. Mr. McConnell appears to think that the public will be fooled, or that it doesn’t care. He went along with Majority Leader Harry Reid’s, D-Nev., plans to spend this week debating the amendment.

Don’t be fooled. This is not about free speech rights. It is about property rights, specifically whether those with the most property should have the biggest say in the way government is run. Without enough money to hire consultants and staff and to barrage voters with television ads, candidates for federal and statewide offices — and increasingly, local offices — have virtually no chance of being elected.

Read the entire editorial by clicking here.

Uncategorized

As we sift through the aftermath of this week’s primary elections, folks should check out two new “must reads” from the state’s editorial pages about the bottom-of-the-barrel, big-money attack ads that infected the race for a state Supreme Court seat.

In this essay published in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer, Melissa Price Kromm of North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections and Bert Brandenburg of the group Justice at Stake in Washington, D.C had this to say:

“After years of avoiding the explosion in judicial election spending nationwide, North Carolina is quickly earning an unwelcome reputation. In the 2011-2012 judicial election cycle, more than $3.5 million was spent for just one state Supreme Court seat; more than $2.8 million of that came from outside groups.

The soaring independent spending in North Carolina is in keeping with national trends since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that unleashed unlimited independent spending on elections

These trends pose a disturbing threat to our courts – that justice might be for sale. Read More

Uncategorized

This morning’s lead editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer gets it right on the U.S. Supreme Court’s latest campaign finance decision in favor of big money:

“Voting 5-4 along ideological lines, the high court said in McCutcheon v. FEC that the current limit on the aggregate amount individuals can give to candidates violates the First Amendment. The decision lifts the $48,600 limit that an individual could contribute every two years to all federal candidates. It also removed the $74,600 limit on individual contributions to federal party committees. However, the court kept in place the limit on giving to one candidate, $2,600 per primary and general election.

The decision adds to the unfolding catastrophe of the court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling that allowed corporations and labor unions to give unlimited amounts to Political Action Committees and other groups that seek to influence elections and politicians. That decision spawned super PACs and ‘dark money’ groups in which corporations can spend directly to influence elections without having to disclose the source of the money. As a result, non-party, outside spending in 2012 tripled that of 2008….

The McCutcheon decision is especially shameful for the history behind the limits it ends and the evidence of how Citizens United has already warped the nation’s democratic process. The aggregate limits were imposed in response to the Watergate scandal that exposed anew the corrupting effect of campaign cash. That the court did not lift the limits on contributions to individual candidates seems to acknowledge the hazards of unlimited giving in a particular race. Why would that caution not also be applied to having wealthy contributors giving the maximum amount to an unlimited number of candidates?

Further, the court continued to spill more money into politics even as giving allowed by Citizens United is turning elections into auctions. Concentrations of wealth – whether held by corporations or the ever-soaring 1 percent – are distorting election issues with misleading and deceptive ads and subverting the ability of the popular will to make itself heard at the polls.”

Read the rest of the editorial by clicking here.

newsobserver.com/2014/04/02/3753198/mccutcheon-ruling-compounds-damage.html?sp=/99/108The McCutcheon decision is especially shameful for the history behind the limits it ends and the evidence of how Citizens United has already warped the nation’s democratic process. The aggregate limits were imposed in response to the Watergate scandal that exposed anew the corrupting effect of campaign cash. That the court did not lift the limits on contributions to individual candidates seems to acknowledge the hazards of unlimited giving in a particular race. Why would that caution not also be applied to having wealthy contributors giving the maximum amount to an unlimited number of candidates?Further, the court continued to spill more money into politics even as giving allowed by Citizens United is turning elections into auctions. Concentrations of wealth – whether held by corporations or the ever-soaring 1 percent – are distorting election issues with misleading and deceptive ads and subverting the ability of the popular will to make itself heard at the polls.

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/04/02/3753198/mccutcheon-ruling-compounds-damage.html?sp=/99/108/#storylink=cpy

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Uncategorized

Holding true to their inclinations revealed at oral argument and splitting along party lines in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission that 2-year aggregate limits on campaign contributions are invalid under the First Amendment.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion, joined by Justices Antonin Scalia,Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote an opinion concurring in the result, and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented.

At issue in McCutcheon was the federal law that caps the total amount of campaign contributions an individual can give to all federal candidates over a two-year period at $48,600. It also limits the total amount an individual can give to political committees that make contributions to candidates to $74,600 and caps the total amount for contributions in the two-year cycle at to $74,600.

Read the full opinion here.