By Thomson Pritchard-Torres (January 20, 2023)
January 21, 2010 – a day that’ll live in infamy. In their Citizens United ruling, the Supreme Court opened the floodgates for dark money, giving big money even more power (Lau, 2019). Deep-pocket donors fund campaigns through super PACs, which take and spend almost unlimited funds, often from anonymous sources (Lau, 2019). This year is the 13th anniversary. As predicted by people like John McCain (Wing, 2017), we can see disastrous consequences.
Super-charged negative campaigning
Well, American democracy didn’t die that day, because you can still vote your choice, right? But negative ads influence the voter’s choice. Lying, cheating, and smearing your way into office has always been a thing, but too often now we don’t know who pays for those ads. Thanks to the Court’s decision, secret donor dollars run rampant, flooding the airwaves, getting in your face. Honest candidates can’t compete. Candidates who actually want to serve the people, and less funded for that reason, are left without a voice.
Back in 2014, a candidate named Sandra Kennedy ran for a seat on the Arizona Corporation Commission. But an attack ad full of cherry-picked data was so effective that she not only lost the election, her family implored her to quit politics altogether (Brancaccio & Schroeder, 2022). No one knows who funded that ad. More than defamation, this was intimidation.
Hope in the states
In November of last year, Arizona citizens approved Proposition 211, amending the state’s constitution to require disclosure of otherwise dark money. To mitigate the influence of big money, fourteen states have now approved some kind of public financing (Lau, 2019). When neither the Court nor Congress is any help, the states or the people must step in.
Background to Citizens United
Citizens United v. FEC was a horrible ruling, but corruption from special interest groups had already taken deep root. People seem to forget the background. The FEC prevented a 2008 film on Hillary Clinton from airing close to a primary election (Lau, 2019). However, we might ask whether the Court picked up the case for the purpose of siding with wealthy donors. An underfunded IRS is unwilling or unable to enforce what rules we had (Lau, 2019), and the FEC has often ruled in favor of wealthy donors. The FEC, the IRS, Congress and the courts – none of them is much help. They have such a long history of not acting on systemic corruption. The rich, voting with their money, seem the only “voters” that matter any more.
Where do we go from here?
At this point, the only way forward is through the state legislatures to call for an amendment-proposing convention. Once we get two thirds of the state’s legislatures to pass our bill, we can root out corruption at its source. If you worry about our democracy slipping away piece by piece, please consider volunteering your time, or becoming a supporter, and tell your friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances. We the people still have a voice in the states, and that’s where we must act.
The Wolf-PAC all-volunteer Communications Team created this post!
- Editing by Khadija Fouad and Brian Martel
- Lau, T. (2019, December 12). Citizens United Explained. Brennan Center for Justice. Retrieved January 19, 2023, from https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/citizens-united-explained
- Wing, N. (2017, December 6). John McCain: Citizens United Is “Worst Decision Ever” . . . “Money Is Money,” Not Free Speech. HuffPost. Retrieved January 19, 2023, from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/john-mccain-citizens-united_n_1960996
- Brancaccio, D., & Schroeder, A. (2022, October 14). Special: Secret Money, Public Influence. Marketplace. Retrieved January 19, 2023, from https://www.marketplace.org/shows/marketplace-morning-report/special-secret-money-public-influence/