Slate has dubbed the 2010s as the decade of Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision that paved the way for unlimited, anonymous corporate election spending. In 2010, the year of Citizens United, the largest political donors were Robert and Doylene Perry ($7.5m for Republicans); in 2019, it was Sheldon and Miriam Adelson ($122m).
In the intervening years, we've seen dark money groups and Super PACs — nominally independent of political candidates — effectively run campaigns. Often these are helmed by former staffers or close family members of the candidate, making a mockery of the idea of independence. Despite this, courts have been reluctant to intervene, even when there's blatant coordination.
Of course, the majority of dark money and Super PAC funds go to right wing candidates (mostly Republicans, but also finance/pharma/coal/oil-friendly Democrats). The right wing project is intrinsically elitist, grounded in the idea that some people were born to rule and that politics (monarchy, markets, theocracy, or other mechanisms) exist to elevate those people to a position of authority over the rest of us. This is a foundationally undemocratic idea, based on the subjugation of majorities by minorities, and the only way to effect it within a democracy is to convince the turkeys to vote for Christmas, by feeding them scare-stories about socialism, big government, taxation, freeloaders, abortion, white supremacy, homophobia, transphobia and misogyny. Citizens United unleashed a torrent of unlimited money used to fill every media channel, from Fox to Facebook, with disinformation campaigns aimed at getting low-information voters to cast ballots for candidates who will ruin their lives.
Moreover, Citizens United opened a floodgate of foreign money, nominally forbidden in US elections, but easily laundered by creating US subsidiaries of foreign firms (including the family firms of foreign oligarchs, who could incorporate US subsidiaries whose only real area of business was funding corrupt candidates who would work to make US policies more friendly to the oligarchs' causes, chief among them, the maintenance and expansion of oligarchy).
What's next? People are understandably focused on more pressing questions than money in politics right now, including impeachment, the security of our voting technology, and whether American democracy can survive the 2020 elections. But if one cares about free and fair elections, the status of our campaign finance system is deeply troubling. And thanks to Congress' inaction on updating disclosure rules, much of this influence will happen in secret. The decade of Citizens United has been a bad one for democracy, but the next decade could be far worse as a new, more radical Supreme Court prepares to blow up the final limits on money going to candidates for election.
The Fallout From Citizens United Shaped the Decade in Countless Outrageous Ways [Richard L. Hasen/Slate]
Judith E. Bell
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