Big Money Affects Us All
Henry Loughlin is a member of the Portland, Maine, American Promise Association. In this letter to the editor, originally published in the Portland Press Herald, Loughlin breaks down the aftermath of Citizens United and highlights the cross-partisan, nationwide support for a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics. APA members across the country continue writing letters to the editor to lift up the movement for a 28th Amendment.
The phrase “Citizens United” generally refers to the 2010 Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. While understanding that the majority opinion lessened campaign finance restrictions, many don’t fully understand its impact.
The reality: it affects all of us in many ways.
Contrary to popular belief, Citizens United did not eliminate limits imposed on individual contributions to politicians or parties. What it did, however, was enable the establishment of Super PACs, political organizations that can raise unlimited sums of money and, crucially, do not have to disclose donors. These funds are often referred to as “dark money.”
Super PACs often do the indirect bidding of candidates, parties, and causes. Laws prohibit “direct coordination” between Super PACs and campaigns, but many candidates have very close (if informal) ties to Super PACs. Often times, Super PACs spend—again, unlimited—money on things like smear campaigns against opposing candidates.
Ever received something in the mail just before an election filled with defamatory and fear-mongering half-truths? Often, the name of the organization sending the mail is obscure, and there is little to no information about its donors or employees, though its intent to discredit is clear. Absurdly enough, this is perfectly legal.
Smear campaigns are one problem exacerbated by dark money. Equally problematic is the amount of corporate “speech” that has infiltrated our political system.
Here’s a major reason that Congress’s approval rating is so low: when senators and representatives rely on unregulated cash from Super PACs, their policies and positions reflect those of major donors rather than constituents. Reforms on issues like climate change, guns, and healthcare are supported by the majority of Americans—and, privately, by many of their Congressional members—but nothing happens because they are beholden to the policy preferences of major donors. Mix unregulated spending with career politicians, many of whose sole aim is re-election, and the result is a fiscal arms race that erodes our democracy and silences our citizens’ voices.
This isn’t just a federal problem, however. Many members of state legislatures and supreme judicial courts have been corrupted by out-of-state Super PACs who seek to influence policy and, thus, control how states govern themselves. Pretty alarming.
Ironically, many who rail against campaign finance reform as an affront to “free speech” revolt when asked for Super PACs to disclose donors. Championing a vehicle which runs on a lack of transparency under the guise of protecting “free speech” is hypocrisy at its finest.
Some claim that campaign finance reform is a partisan cause fought out by the left. Not only inaccurate given that 66% of Republicans favor a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, it also ignores that many “red” states have passed resolutions calling for this amendment. In fact, Montana—a state where out-of-state corporate influence is profiled in the film Dark Money—passed such a resolution by a 3-to-1 margin in 2012, the same year that Sen. Mitt Romney defeated President Barack Obama statewide by more than 13 percent. So much for a “left-wing crusade.”
Moreover, if the GOP thinks it holds the cards, its members are sadly mistaken: 54% of the $150 million of dark money generated during the 2018 election cycle went to liberal-leaning groups. This is truly a bipartisan problem—and it needs a bipartisan solution.
A constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United needs to be ratified by 38 States and passed by 2/3 of Congress. To date, 20 states have already passed resolutions calling for this amendment. And with Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) introducing the Democracy for All Amendment on July 30th, there has never been a better time to keep this momentum going.
Our campaign finance system leaves politicians, legislatures, and courts at high risk of corruption. As Americans, we must pass the 28th Amendment to get big money out of politics—and restore our government as one of the people, by the people, and for the people.