In the eight years since it was decided, Citizens United has unleashed a wave of campaign spending that by any reasonable standard is extraordinarily corrupt. To see how this operates in practice, let’s take a look at how Paul Ryan, the outgoing speaker of the House, negotiated a path — narrowly constructed to stay on the right side of the law — during a recent fund-raising trip to Las Vegas, as recounted in detail by Politico. In early May, Ryan flew to Nevada to solicit money from Sheldon Adelson — the casino magnate who was by far the largest Republican contributor of 2018 — for the Congressional Leadership Fund, an independent expenditure super PAC. Ryan was accompanied by Norm Coleman, a former Republican Senator from Minnesota. The Leadership Fund, according to its website, is “a super PAC exclusively dedicated to protecting and strengthening the Republican Majority in the House of Representatives.” It “operates independently of any federal candidate or officeholder.”
Adelson could not legally hand over his check to Ryan, who is a federal officeholder. Incidentally, Adelson’s company, Las Vegas Sands, reported a $700 million windfall as a result of the $1.5 trillion tax cut enacted last year by the House under Ryan’s supervision.
So how did they conduct this delicate transaction?
First, Ryan, Coleman and others “laid out a case to Adelson about how crucial it is to protect the House,” according to Politico’s report. Then Ryan “left the room, Coleman made the ‘ask’ and secured the $30 million contribution.”
Will behavior like this “cause the electorate to lose faith in our democracy?” Apparently not, according to Anthony M. Kennedy, the recently retired justice who wrote Citizens United with the backing of four of his colleagues.