Citizens United Is Ruining Our Democracy

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The 2010 Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court was perhaps the worst single decision that has negatively affected our democracy in decades. The decision has basically allowed millions in so-called ‘dark money’ to infest our elections. While most of the money contributions require disclosure as to who or what group is behind certain ads, some tax-exempt groups are able to get around such requirements. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, dark money spending went from $5.2 million in 2006 to $183.5 million in the 2016 election cycle. Interestingly enough, 22.5% of that spending was done by liberal interest groups while conservative groups spent the rest. In other words, while both liberal groups and conservative groups are taking advantage of the system as it stands now, conservative groups are far and away spending the bulk of this money. The system now in place is a microcosm of where our democracy stands these days. In a nutshell, corporations and wealthy Americans have an outsized influence on our politicians. While the elite have always had this influence, it has now reached a fever pitch. The real question is, what can we do about it and which party will take the lead in fixing this terrible system?

It’s pretty clear that the Republicans, who have control of all three branches of government have no intention of tackling this issue. To them, it’s working for their benefit so why change the status quo? To be fair, even though it’s been the Democrats who have brought this issue to the forefront, they still exploit the system as well. In addition, while Barack Obama did call out this awful decision in a joint session of Congress with most of the Supreme Court Justices in attendance, he didn’t do a whole lot to move things forward. Of course there wasn’t a whole lot he could have done with the opposition party totally opposed to taking action. This is not to say however that Democrats aren’t at least trying. According to Sarah Kleiner from the Center for Public Integrity, in a Time Magazine piece, Democrats have introduced nearly two dozen bills addressing this issue. Unfortunately, hardly any of them have Republican co-sponsors. The Republicans have also introduced some bills concerning campaign finance reform but the majority of those would do little to address reform in any meaningful way. In fact, most would tilt the scales even further toward wealthy donors.

Several of the Democratic bills deal with disclosure requirements, reasonable limitations on campaign spending and raising money, as well as stricter regulations on foreign money finding its way into our elections. These are all worthy proposals and should be debated. But maybe the only way to change the system once and for all is through the Constitutional Amendment process. Yes, this would be the most difficult and far-reaching but it’s worth a shot. There are Democrats leading this charge and in the long run it may be the last best hope we have in changing the system. It’s not meant to be a quick process. Our founders assured it wouldn’t be. But as we have seen in the history of our country, meaningful change takes courage and patience.

Perhaps the real question we need to ask though is whether the American people care enough about this issue. With so many problems facing the middle-class and those wanting to join the middle-class, campaign finance reform never ranks high in polls as to what’s important to them. While polls indicate Democrats as well as Republican voters are concerned about the outsized influence money has on our politicians, it’s just not the sort of issue that gains much traction. This has to change. Democrats, in the upcoming election and in 2020 must seize this issue as their own. We know the Republican Party will not go down this road. Democrats have at least tried to make changes. Whether through legislation, the amendment process, or through the courts, changing the system as we know it must become the signature issue of the upcoming campaign. Until we level the playing field, nothing is going to change. It’s pretty clear only one political party is capable of leading the charge.

17 comments

      1. Brookingslib, I know that money and speech are 2 separate things in entirety. The problem is when people want to claim that spending money is an expression of speech and yet they want to legislate how we can spend our money. Example: Gambling. I find it to be a waste of time and money personally. Having said that, if spending money is to be made equivalent to expressing speech, laws that prohibit gambling should be Unconstitutional.

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  1. Brookingslib, I will find more stuff to share with you as I judge it to be appropriate or relevant to what you discuss on your blog. I know that you pass Right wing stuff off as propaganda, however, if you will do me the courtesy of considering the merits of what I will share, I can guarantee that I will extend to you the same courtesy.

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    1. I watched the video Ragnar. Here’s my take. I respect George Will. I find myself agreeing with him more these days, specifically with how he clearly recognized the danger of Donald Trump to democracy.

      However, I still disagree with him on a lot of issues, especially how he says campaign finance reform IS the corruption in that it seeks to protect incumbents, not really make government better. I could not disagree more.

      What he doesn’t say in his piece is that the amount of so-called ‘dark money’ has exploded in recent years. This is the tons of money being thrown into campaign advertising using bogus 503C(I think that’s the code) non-profit front groups, but having no requirement to publicly state who is behind the ads.

      Campaign finance reform is a huge issue for me. I feel it is so important to regulate the rich and wealthy from their outsized influence on politicians. Case in point, Joe Manchin, the Senator from WV, is someone who receives lots of money from fossil fuel and pharmaceutical companies. Will would like us to believe that this money has nothing to do with how he votes because it only reiterates what he already believes anyway. I say BS to that. He’s almost single-handedly trying to influence the Biden Build Back Better bill, which has a ton of good proposals having to do with climate change and lowering pharmaceutical prices for seniors. Do you see the correlation between his campaign donors and why he takes such a hard line?

      This is a complicated issue Ragnar. I believe Dems want to level the playing field, put more scrutiny on wealthy/corporate donors, and make government more accountable and transparent. Republicans generally do not want anything to change. They love their big donors. Dems, at least some of them, do as well. If we can get the big money out, maybe even have some sort of public financing available to candidates, I believe it would go along way toward showing the American people that the politicians in DC are not on the take. I mean, the difference between a huge campaign donation and a bribe is very thin, don’t you think?
      If I make a $35 contribution to Candidate A, and a wealthy donor makes a $350k contribution to a dark money non-profit advocating for that same candidate, who has more influence with that candidate?

      As for your gambling analogy, I can’t say I really understand the correlation to be quite honest. I personally do not believe money=speech, as the Supreme Court has said. I simply do not believe that WalMart or Google is a person, which is how they equate them. A corporation is an entity created by the state. They’ve clearly got way too much influence on our politicians today. I say regulate the hell out of them. Gambling, in my view, is a personal choice.

      That’s my take friend. I appreciate you sharing the video. I generally do not view videos longer than a few minutes. I just don’t have the time these days. But the one you sent was pretty brief. I’ll do my best to get back to you when I can.

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      1. Brookingslib, 2 things: 1: I will watch all videos I offer before I share them and only share those that I judge to be appropriate to said post. 2: Even though this is your blog, I will only share videos that I believe to be relevant to what the post speaks of that I offer comments on. Question: Even though the gun discussion between David Pakman and Ben Shapiro took place on David Pakman’s show, did you like the video generally speaking or did you feel that it was too slanted?

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    1. You missed the point of my comment.

      Jeff took time from his busy schedule to offer considerable input related to the George Will video you shared. So far, you have offered nothing in return … and often don’t. THAT’S my point.

      If you’re going to throw out talking points on Jeff’s blog, I think many of his followers would enjoy reading YOUR take on them as well as Jeff’s — yet you rarely offer feedback and instead turn around and ask another question (as you just did in your comment #10591).

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      1. Yes … IF they’re related to the topic under discussion. Many times, your question is totally unrelated. Example: Jeff offers a LENGTHY response to the George Will video you shared. Rather than offer YOUR opinion on the video and perhaps start a relevant discussion, you veer off the subject and ask about a gun issue!

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