The Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 ruling in Citizens United in 2010 was shaped by an extreme view of the First Amendment: money equals speech, and independent spending by wealthy organizations and individuals poses no problem to the political system. The court cavalierly dismissed worries that those with big bank accounts — and big megaphones — have an unfair advantage in exerting political power. It simply asserted that “the people have the ultimate influence over elected officials” — as if campaigns were not in the business of influencing and manipulating voters. The flood of money unleashed this election season is a direct consequence of this naïve, damaging view, which has allowed wealthy organizations and individuals to drown out other voices in the campaign. The decision created a controlling precedent for other legal decisions that made so-called super PACs the primary vehicles for unlimited spending from wealthy organizations and individuals. In theory, they operate independently of candidates. In reality, candidates are outsourcing their attack ads to PACs, so financing a PAC is equivalent to financing a campaign.
In SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission, the federal appeals court for the District of Columbia ruled that as a result of Citizens United, contributions by individuals to advocacy groups called 527s could not be limited. The Federal Election Commission further confirmed in 2010 that an “independent” political committee can accept unlimited contributions for unlimited spending from just about any kind of group or individual. So far in this election cycle, outside spending by super PACs, corporations, unions and others totals $92.2 million, about two and a half times as much as in the same period in 2008 and six times as much as in the period in 2004.
Both the SpeechNow case and the F.E.C. ruling relied on the rationale for unlimited spending enunciated in Citizens United. Justice Anthony Kennedy, in the majority opinion, narrowed the court’s definition of political corruption to mean quid pro quo corruption, or bribery. Independent spending, he wrote, does “not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption” and “influence over or access to elected officials does not mean that these officials are corrupt.”
Full Article: When Other Voices Are Drowned Out – NYTimes.com.