Appearance of Corruption

May 31, 2012

In Citizens United v. FEC, the Supreme Court voted 5 to 4 to overturn restrictions on corporate spending in elections dating back more than one hundred years. Justice Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion, justified the decision by asserting that “independent expenditures do not lead to, or create the appearance of, quid pro quo corruption.”

What has transpired since the Supreme Court decided Citizens United in 2010 proves how wrong that statement was.  Citizens United and cases that followed its logic have unleashed a new force into the political process that can receive unlimited donations and spend unlimited sums to influence elections:  the super PAC.  These political committees aren’t subject to contribution limits and the restrictions on taking corporate money which apply to traditional PACs, because they spend only on independent expenditures (unlike traditional PACs, which also donate directly to candidates).  The most troubling super PACs are formed with the sole and exclusive purposes of supporting specific candidates for federal office; operating as de facto arms of the campaigns, these candidate super PACs have rendered contribution limits and the ban on direct corporate contributions to candidates virtually meaningless. In addition, longstanding loopholes in tax law have allowed corporations and wealthy individuals to funnel their unlimited political spending through non-profits, which are not subject to disclosure, in order to shield their identities while influencing the outcome of elections.

Developments since Citizens United have created countless opportunities for corrupt dealing, and they have created widespread perceptions of corruption, severely undermining public confidence in our government.

Countless media accounts have documented these disturbing trends and raised important questions about how unlimited and undisclosed spending will impact representation in our democracy.  We have catalogued those stories here.

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