With the failure of big money, is it really important to overturn Citizens United?

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Last week on our sister site Red Green and Blue, editor Jeremy Bloom argued that we people of all political stripes should rally around Senator Al Franken (D-MN), in his quest to overturn Citizens United. Last week was the third anniversary of Citizens United, the landmark Supreme Court ruling that opened the floodgates allowing secret donors to give unlimited amounts of money to influence groups, and that those groups can give unlimited amounts of money to politicians running for office.

The billion dollar election we saw in November, according to Franken, is just the beginning.

The Citizens Against Citizens United group, led by Franken and a handful of other Senators, has a point. Consider the following:

  1. Ohio State Treasurer Josh Mandel spent about $6 million on his Senate campaign last year. Outside groups spent $8 million supporting him.
  2. George Allen, former Senator and Presidential hopeful from Virginia, spent $3 million on his campaign. Outside groups funded by secret donors spent over $20 million supporting Allen.
  3. One couple spent over $57 million backing ultra-conservative candidates across the country.
But does money guarantee victory? Definitely not. Allen lost by a wider margin than the last time he ran for the same office. Mandel lost handily. That couple? They happen to own a casino, but ironically bet quite poorly, winning just 2 of every 5 offices they bankrolled.
Regardless, this year might have been an anomaly. There is little doubt that candidates will continue to receive massive funding from outside groups for races across the country. And when there are only a handful of races, that big money will likely have a higher proportional effect than it does in a presidential election year. The Koch Brothers, billionaire oil barons and large contributors to the secret organizations bankrolling candidates, basically helped carry Scott Walker to victory in Wisconsin when the governor was recalled. Their money simply overwhelmed the local opposition.
This year may have been an anomaly for other reasons. Two Republican Senators torpedoed their own campaigns and gave a black eye to the party as a whole by insinuating that rape wasn’t really a big deal. And of course, Mitt Romney was kind of a loser of a candidate…even the people spending millions on his campaign said they didn’t really like him.
Mother Jones referred to the Koch Brothers as the “tip of the dark money iceberg“, showing just how complex it is to track the money moving from billionaire donors through special interest groups and to candidates. The Koch brothers by themselves gave just a modest sum, less than a million, 100% of it to Republican candidates. But the group they founded, Americans for Prosperity, can collect any amount from undisclosed donors, and pour that money into political campaigns. According to the report, Americans for Prosperity spent over $36 million in anti-Obama ads in the last election cycle.
This month’s Mother Jones Magazine had a terrific analysis of the Return on Investment this money garnered for the Koch’s and other dark money groups. Suffice to say, the ROI was bad…very bad. Republicans took a thumping at the polls in November. But in the future, it’s hard to see anything other than big money playing a bigger and bigger role in our elections.
So to conclude, we definitely advocate the repeal of Citizens United, and urge you to join the movement.

Click here to sign Franken’s petition.


Photo from Glennia on Flickr Creative Commons


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