This blog is about big money in politics and the corruption that follows it. Citizens for Truth was started as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010. This ruling effectively removed limits on the amount of money corporations and unions can spend in elections. The only requirement is that the expenditures must be independent of the candidate’s own campaign — there can be no coordination or other collaboration between the candidate or political party and the outside group.
Since that decision, the number of outside groups has increased exponentially. Each election seems to involve more money than the one before it. National elections, but also state and local, are heavily influenced by big money donors. It is often the case that big money donors in state and local elections don’t even live in the state, let alone the local areas. As a result, outside groups, along with their corporate and out-of-state donors, are calling the shots in state and local elections, not the people who actually live there. The two primary types of big money outside groups are SuperPACS and 501(c)4 “social welfare” organizations (for more information see these posts: 501(c)4s; PACs, SuperPACS, 501(c)4s).
The key difference between these two groups is disclosure. SuperPACs are required to disclose donations, while 501(c)4s are not. The latter is often referred to as “dark money.”
Let’s switch gears for a moment and discuss Montana’s importance in campaign finance. Continue reading
Posted in 501(c)4 groups, Citizens United, Corruption, Supreme Court
Tagged 17th Amendment, 501(c)4 group, big money donors, big money in politics, campaign finance, Citizens United, Corrupt Practices Act, corruption, Montana, Montana Supreme Court, Supreme Court, Western Tradition Partnership, WTP
Stephen Spaulding, of Common Cause and the Hill’s Congress blog, recently addressed the latest threat to the fight to get money out of politics.
On Tuesday, October 8, 2013, the Supreme Court is slated to hear arguments in the case of McCutcheon v. FEC . Shaun McCutcheon, the lead plaintiff, is challenging the $123,200 limit on contributions a single donor may make to federal candidates and political party committees during any two-year election cycle… If McCutcheon prevails, he and similarly wealthy donors soon will be able to write campaign checks of up to $3.6 million a pop.
McCutcheon, in a July interview, said that he believes individuals should have “more influence” (What?! Is this a democracy or an oligarchy?). He also stated that there needs to be a “real, real good reason” to limit individuals’ ability to give to campaigns.
In fact, there is a very good reason, and it was identified by the Supreme Court in prior rulings: to avoid corruption or the appearance of corruption. In Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce (1990), the Court concluded that large contributions do represent corruptions or at least the appearance of corruption. Earlier, the decisions in Buckley v. Valeo (1976) and First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti (1978) presented the argument that even the appearance of corruption can be devastating, as citizens begin to lose faith in the democratic process.
All three of these precedents, however, have already been challenged by the current Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC (2010). The February blog post, Citizens United Ruling Part 3, detailed the arguments of each side. Will the Citizens United precedent stand, or will the Court go back to previous arguments to find a good reason to limit campaign contributions? The next few months will tell.
Jamie Raskin, a constitutional law professor, recently wrote a very interesting article on the Citizens United decision. The irony of the Citizens United case is that the plaintiffs only wanted a ruling stating that the electioneering provisions of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law didn’t apply to them. “But the conservatives sent the parties back to brief and argue the paradigm-shifting constitutional question they were so keen to decide. As dissenting Justice John Paul Stevens observed, the justices in the majority ‘changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law.'”
Raskin states that the influx of money spent by super PACs and dark money 501(c)4 groups in the 2010 election changed the focus of that year’s election from the continuing effects of the subprime mortgage crisis, the BP oil spill, and the Massey Energy coal mine disaster to the urgent importance of deregulating corporations (and, of course, repealing Obamacare). He discusses how, after 200 years of precedent, the Supreme Court changed its views of corporations from an “artificial entity” and “mere creation of the law” to one of personhood.
image courtesy of reuters
Raskin describes how corporations are now actually more protected than individuals and small businesses. Defenders say that “corporations should be free to keep their political spending secret because they may face intimidation and even — God forbid — boycotts from consumers who dislike their politics.” Small businesses are at a disadvantage since they don’t have the kind of money to spend that large corporations do in order to have their voices heard.
In another ruling against democratic principles, the Supreme Court overturned a provision of Arizona’s law on public campaign financing, a law that was passed by referendum by its citizens. “The Court ruled that privately financed candidates backed by wealthy interests not only have a right to spend to the heavens to win office but also a right, in states with public financing laws, to lock in their massive financial advantage over publicly financed candidates, whose campaign speech may not be even modestly amplified by public funding when they get outspent. The First Amendment becomes not the guardian of democratic discussion but the guarantee of unequal protection for well-born and wealth-backed politicians. Today corporations can saturate the airwaves and billionaires can spend to their hearts’ content, but government cannot create even a modest megaphone to help poorer candidates be heard.”
Here are excerpts from the article:
The following Constitutional amendments were designed to overturn Supreme Court cases.
- The Eleventh Amendment—overturned, in 1795, a Supreme Court decision from 1793 allowing federal courts to hear cases in which a citizen of one state sues the government of another.
- The Thirteenth Amendment—abolished slavery, after Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) held that slaves could not sue for freedom because they and their children were not citizens.
- The Fourteenth Amendment—grants citizenship to anyone born or naturalized in the United States. This also overrules Dred Scott’s ruling that slaves were not eligible for citizenship.
- The Sixteenth Amendment—gives Congress the power to levy a direct national income tax, 18 years after 1895’s Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co. held that individual income taxes were unconstitutional. Continue reading