Five years after Citizens United ruling, big money reigns

Michael Hiltzik
January 24, 2015

If you’re wondering why issues favored by a majority of Americans such as raising the minimum wage, gun control and net neutrality get scarcely any attention in the halls of Congress, the Citizens United case is the reason.

The Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in the infamous campaign finance case marked its fifth anniversary last week. By taking the reins off big-money electoral donations by corporations and labor unions, Citizens United has unmistakably broadened the political influence of the wealthy and powerful.

But the ruling’s pernicious effect goes well beyond merely inviting more money into politics. It has opened the way to a debasement of our politics by narrowing the definition of political corruption that can be fought by campaign finance limits.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last year termed Citizens United the worst of the current court’s rulings. “The notion that we have all the democracy that money can buy strays so far from what our democracy is supposed to be,” she told Jeffrey Rosen of the New Republic.

This is an even more frightening prospect — as the voices of the powerful (and rich) overwhelm those of average Americans.

The sheer torrent of dollars shouldn’t be overlooked, however. Outside spending of the sort facilitated by Citizens United — money spent not by the candidates themselves, but formally unaffiliated groups — has “exploded” during the three federal election cycles since the ruling, according to an analysis by the Brennan Center at New York University.

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