Five years later, Citizens United gives greater voice to the wealthy


by Colleen Flaherty

On January 21, the Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. FEC—which opened the floodgates for unlimited corporate dollars to influence elections—will celebrate its fifth anniversary. Since its inception, the ruling that equated money with free speech has impacted elections far more than predicted.

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Since 2010, the number of reported outside money spent in Senate races has doubled to $486 million, according to a report by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law released today. The amount being spent by dark money groups, which don’t always need to disclose their donors or spending, has also doubled to $226 million.

These figures are actually an underestimation—the Federal Election Commission data the study is evaluating doesn’t include spending on certain “issue ads” that don’t have to be reported, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

The Brennan Center traced 10 toss-up Senate races, and of the total spending, non-party outside groups actually outspent candidates, 47 percent to 41 percent.

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Source: Brennan Center

What’s particularly worrisome is how the explosion of campaign spending has been done to amplify the voices of a very few wealthy individuals. According to the report:

“In the three federal elections held since Citizens United, there has been more than $1 billion in super PAC spending. Just 195 individuals and their spouses gave almost 60 percent of that money — more than $600 million. The pattern is not limited to super PACs; in the 2014 elections, the 100 biggest donors to all types of political committees together gave $323 million, almost matching the $356 million in small donations that came from an estimated 4.75 million people.”

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Source: Brennan Center

To reiterate, the influence of 100 wealthy individuals had the equivalent voice of 4.75 million peoplewhile fewer than 200 people account for the majority of Super PAC spending.

As for the individual Super PAC contributions, the highest spender, the Senate Majority PAC, received contributions that were on average almost double the size the average annual household income in America, currently $73,000. The second highest spender, Ending Spending, was getting contributions that averaged more than six times the average American income.

In those 10 competitive Senate races from 2014, “all but two got less than 1 percent of their individual contributions from small donors of $200 or less. Average contributions from donors of more than $200 were in the five- and six-figure range.”

Since the decision that has amplified the voices of corporations and millionaires at the expense of the average voter, hundreds of local governments and 16 states have called for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. This month, the House will reintroduce the Government by the People Act, a bill to once again introduce the constitutional amendment to bring reform to campaign spending.

Sign the pledge to support the constitutional amendment and add your voice to the millions of Americans who are speaking out against money in politics!

Reader Comments

  1. Only 20 years ago we had many integrated schools in Arizona. Then came ‘School Choice’ legislation, which meant parents could take their kids to any public school they wanted them in. It doesn’t sound like a bad thing, but what happened was the reintroduction of segregation. Students now are not being taught the fundamental ideals that are learned by getting to know what other cultures and races think and feel. This is in a state where the demographics are rapidly changing to majority Hispanic. Go forward another 20 years, and we will have created a state like Northern Ireland in their ‘troubled’ years.

  2. The once robust, gainfully employed middle class with ample disposable income that formed the world’s premier consumer economy has been offered up as the sacrificial lamb on the altar of Wall Street gods, while Wall Street returns have been deified as the Golden Calf (or should I say, Bull?).

    Money for influence in our “pay-to-play” legislature has assured that moneyed interest is the ONLY “voice” that will be heard not only in Congress, but in our national elections as well! Heads- they win, Tails- we lose!

    Welcome to the advent of the “global economy,” where the gainfully employed USA middle class is kicked to the curb in favor of sweatshops offshore. Meanwhile, Maersk freighters (capacity 2.2 million train car size “containers”) roll up to our ports daily to fleece, tariff free, the declining USA middle class consumers at Walmart, to suit the profit margin of “multinational” corporatists and The Wall Street Investment Industry.

  3. Please work to reform campaign spending through a constitutional amendment, so that this is a people’s government, not a wealthy people’s government.

    1. already destroyed…why can’t we pass a sensible gun law?… Why can’t we act on climate change…? Why can’t any sensible legislation get through? Pick your issue from either side of the aisle. It’s easier to cater to the rich few than please the masses. When you need to raise money to be re-elected the easiest thing to do is make the richest donors happy. Change the system, change the result. Don’t change and the decline continues.

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