We wrote about the need for doing something about the aftermath of Citizens United. Mega corporations and the super-rich poured more than $500 million into shadowy outside groups in the 2014 elections. This was an all-out attempt to buy our democracy by drowning out the voices of candidates and voters. Many observers believe that’s just the down payment.
In 2016, these shadowy outside groups run by right-wing political operatives like Karl Rove and reactionary industrialists like the Koch brothers, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, will blow away the $500 million they spent in 2014. This massive assault on our democracy was unleashed by five Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court.
To put things in perspective, in the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations like ExxonMobil, Bank of America and CIGNA have the same First Amendment rights as living, breathing human beings and can spend unlimited sums of money to support or oppose political candidates. This radical decision overturned more than 100 years of what was believed to be well-settled law.
Then in April, a deeply divided Supreme Court ruled in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission that any limit on the total amount an individual can contribute in an election is unconstitutional. This decision gives a handful of billionaires the power to write a single check for $5.9 million to candidates and political committees. These decisions are a disaster for our democracy. They cannot be allowed to stand. That’s why Public Citizen is leading an historic campaign to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s decisions.
There is a lot of work to do. Before the Supreme Court’s 5-4 rulings, Congress at least restricted corporations and billionaires from using their massive financial power to directly influence elections. The reason was obvious: Big business and the super-rich are uniquely capable of gathering enormous sums of money and using it to punish their enemies and reward their friends, effectively undermining our democracy.
That’s just what we experienced in 2014. Powerful corporate interests and billionaires spent nearly twice as much on outside groups as in 2010. It’s not just the total amount these shady, unaccountable groups spend that’s alarming; it’s the increasingly dominant role they play in financing our elections. In 36 races outside groups actually outspent the candidates. That’s up from 11 in 2010.
For these mega donors, these giant contributions are an investment. They expect – and receive – payback many times over in the form of tax breaks, subsidies, regulatory rollbacks and much more. Do you believe that General Electric, Goldman Sachs, BP and a few hundred plutocrats should have the right to spend as much money as they want to corrupt our elections? According to recent polling, more than 80 percent of the public believes the current campaign finance laws are bad for democracy. Nearly 88 percent believe corporations have too much political power already. What do you say? In the four years since the Court’s Citizens United decision, groups like Public Citizen have mobilized this public sentiment and made enormous progress building a national movement to overturn the Court’s unwise decision. Now, they are taking their campaign to the next level to overturn Citizens United.
Tens of thousands of energized citizens are engaged in Public Citizen’s “Democracy Is For People Campaign” to pass a constitutional amendment and restore the First Amendment and fair elections to the people. Enormous progress has been made. Sixteen states – California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and West Virginia – and more than 550 cities and towns have passed resolutions calling for constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.
In Washington, 170 members of Congress and President Obama have endorsed an amendment to overturn Citizens United. More than 3 million people have signed petitions supporting an amendment, and dozens of new organizational allies have joined our campaign. In fact, our movement, which was dismissed as quixotic four years ago, reached an important milestone on Sept. 8 when a majority of the U.S. Senate took its first vote ever to overturn Citizens United and the other radical Supreme Court decisions that are handing the keys of our democracy to the highest bidder.
A strong majority of 54 U.S. Senators, representing an even larger percentage of the American public, withstood withering attacks from reactionary billionaires like the Koch brothers and cast their votes with We the People. Public Citizen didn’t get the two-thirds majority necessary to pass a constitutional amendment, but, hopefully, the day is not far off when this will happen. It will take hundreds of thousands of engaged citizens letting Congress know how they feel. If ordinary folks get involved, we can reverse the Court’s decisions and take back our democracy from corporate control.
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