Remember how bad the Citizens United decision was going to be for America? It was so bad no one would ever win an election fair and square again. It was so bad any ol’ billionaire could just buy any election he wanted. It was so bad it was worth President Obama calling out SCOTUS justices in an unprecedentedly rude move at the State of the Union.
At his State of the Union address four years ago, President Barack Obama lectured Supreme Court justices about their decision he said would let corporations — even foreign corporations — play an unprecedented new role in electoral politics.
But America’s largest companies haven’t used the Citizens United v. FEC case to open up their checkbook. Instead, most still prefer the time-tested avenues of political influence-peddling: industry trade associations, politically active nonprofits and company PACs that are limited to giving just $5,000 per candidate.
The ruling has helped reshape the campaign finance landscape by paving the way for megadonors and campaign consultants to wrest power away from the K Street fundraising circuit and the political parties, but just not in the way critics first envisioned.
“Citizens United has become the all-purpose boogeyman,” said Bradley Smith, an election law expert, founder of the Center for Competitive Politics and a noted skeptic of campaign finance restrictions. “Whatever you hate about campaigns, blame Citizens United.”
Tuesday is the anniversary of Citizens United, which comes as the Supreme Court prepares to rule on another major campaign finance case, McCutcheon v. FEC. In that case, justices will consider the constitutionality of the aggregate donation limits to political parties and candidates. A ruling in McCutcheon could come as early as Wednesday.
In 2010, Supreme Court gave companies, nonprofits and unions carte blanche to spend unlimited funds directly on election-related politicking in Citizens United — so long as that activity was not coordinated with a candidate or political party. Combined with another case, SpeechNow v. FEC, the ruling led to the creation of super PACs and hybrid PACs, which have been used to dramatically change the political system.
But it’s been individuals giving the vast majority of cash, not companies.
Just for perspective, the 2012 election cycle— the first president election under the unleashed, dastardly dominion of America’s billionaires and corporations—cost a total of $7 billion. That’s a little more than half of what the federal government spends in one day, so spare me the histrionics.
Remy and Sean Malone offer a primer on Citizens United, four years after the decision. It’s still desperately needed given the misconceptions that remain and the willful misinforming of the public by people and presidents convinced that allowing all this free speech is probably the death knell of the Republic.
Update: I should add between this and Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Virginia is trying very hard to give away that “best managed” title referenced in this video, but you can’t blame Citizens United for that.