Several months ago I wrote to argue against the constantly-repeated storyline that cast Citizens United as responsible for the explosion of SuperPacs in this election cycle. Though I have written critically about the Court’s decision, I was also skeptical of the tendency to blame the Court’s decision for all the forms of newly emerging election financing in this cycle that critics disliked. Citizens United did liberate corporate and union general-treasury funds to engage in independent election spending, but it did not otherwise change the constitutional architecture originally constructed in Buckley v. Valeo, back in 1976.
Yesterday’s disclosure filings with the FEC by the various SuperPacs give us better traction on this issue. Based on the data provided by the New York Times, my quick initial calculation suggests that the proportion of the money contributed to the major, candidate-specific SuperPacs for the Republican primaries that came from corporations versus wealthy individuals was the following: Romney (“Restore Our Future”): 23% corporate money; Gingrich (“Winning Our Future”): 0% corporate money; Santorum: 0% corporate money. I also included Rick Perry in my calculations, even though he has dropped out, because he had the second most successful SuperPac for the last quarter of 2011, and he might be thought more likely than Gingrich or Santorum to have been able to draw corporate money. The Perry SuperPac, “Make Us Great Again,” raised 25% of its money from corporations. Aggregating the figures for all four of these candidates, 22% of the money supporting Republican-candidate SuperPacs seems to have come from corporations. Compared to all the prior ungrounded speculation, that figure now provides us actual information, for the first time, on how much Citizens United and corporate money is or is not fueling the rise of SuperPacs.