Appearance of Corruption
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.
These stories are coded according to theme. Some document how outside spending has increasingly replaced party or candidate spending as the most important spending in post-Citizens United elections. Some shed light on the motivations of donors who choose to make mega-donations to third party groups and the interests behind anonymous spending. Others document the close ties between candidates and nominally “independent” outside groups. Some do several of these at once.
At the very least, the abundance of reporting on outside spending strongly suggests the appearance of corruption that Justice Kennedy assumed to be lacking in Citizens United.
The links above document articles about outside spending in the following categories:
- Coordination – Articles discussing former campaign staffers or family members heading Super PACs; candidates/campaign staffers/executive agency officials fundraising for Super PACs; candidates “speaking through the media” to super PACs, and candidates and Super PACs otherwise coordinating their efforts.
- Spending/Fundraising – Articles reporting on super PAC, non-profit, candidate, or party spending or fundraising or about the cost of the election.
- Donors – Articles focused on a particular big donor or industry’s importance to a super PAC or other third party group.
- Motivations – Articles that allege a motivation or reason for a big donor to support a particular candidate through a super PAC or non-profit.
- Secret/Shadow – Articles focused on donations or spending through non-profits or other means of avoiding disclosure.
- Comparison – Articles that compare the role of Super PACs and other outside groups relative to candidate campaign committees or political parties.
- Illegality – Articles alleging illegal misconduct by candidates, Super PACs, donors, etc.
- Polling – Articles containing polling information about the public’s perception of Super PACs, outside spending, etc.
- Colbert – Articles discussing comedian Stephen Colbert’s ingenious efforts to educate the public on the roles that Super PACs and non-profits are playing in American elections.
- Miscellaneous – Other articles about the role of outside spending in elections.