Money in Politics Newsletter: New Reports on 'Citizens United' Anniversary, New York Needs Reform

January 28, 2015

Money in Politics News

New Reports: Citizens United Has Given A Wealthy Few Unprecedented Election Power

January 21 was the fifth anniversary of Citizens United v. FEC, the infamous U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing unlimited “independent” spending in elections. In a new report, Daniel Weiner looked at the ruling’s impact, concluding in a Reuters op-ed written with Lawrence Norden that “The most stunning consequence is the influence that a few tycoons and other wealthy donors now wield in U.S. elections. Running a close second is the tidal wave of ‘dark money’ from unknown sources making it impossible for citizens to know who is supporting candidates in pivotal races.” Weiner answered questions about the decision from Meet the Press’ Chuck Todd in a #TweetThePress twitter conversation. As The New Yorker put it, “The Roberts Court’s deregulation of campaign finance — one of the principal projects of the court’s conservative justices — is rolling along with merciless efficiency.” Read testimony from Weiner and David Earley to the Federal Election Commission on how to improve disclosure and coordination rules in the wake of this and other U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

A new analysis by Ian Vandewalker quantified the explosion of outside spending in competitive U.S. Senate races since 2010. “The big number to know,” said The Washington Post, is “$486 million, a.k.a. the amount of reported outside money spent on Senate races in 2014. That number has doubled since 2010, as has the amount of money being spent by dark money groups.” According to The New York Times, “The report … shows that a relatively small number of donors have provided most of the money being spent by outside groups. Sixty percent of the money — more than $600 million — spent by so-called super PACs since 2010 was contributed by fewer than 200 donors and their spouses.” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Public Citizen President Robert Weissman, cited the report in an op-ed for The Huffington Post. Read more from Al-Jazeera America, Bloomberg Businessweek, PBS Frontline, the Los Angeles TimesThe Hill, The New York Review of Books, The Staten Island Advance, and U.S. News & World Report. Watch Vandewalker on Scripps News.

Ahead of President Obama’s State of the Union address, Michael Waldman for The Daily Beast called on President Obama to address the growing influence of big money on politics. The president did, calling for a “better politics” where “we spend less time drowning in dark money for ads that pull us into the gutter.” Read more from Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, Walter Shapiro, and Erik Opsal.

It's Clearer Than Ever that New York Needs Reform

As New York Governor Andrew Cuomo prepared to give the first State of the State address of his second term, Lawrence Norden wrote in The New York Daily News that the speech — which coincided with the fifth anniversary of Citizens United — should address “the biggest piece of unfinished business from Cuomo’s first term: the failure to pass reforms that would clean up a statehouse many see as a cesspool of corruption.” Cuomo chose not to highlight the issue.

Just two days later, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announced the arrest of New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, one of the state’s most powerful politicians, on a broad range of corruption-related charges. In The New York Daily News, Norden wrote that Silver’s arrest wouldn’t have been possible without a 2011 law requiring stronger reporting of legislators’ outside income, but, “Regardless of how the prosecution of Silver plays out, many of the conflicts of interests that have contributed to the indictment or conviction of 21 legislators in the last 10 years (including three of the last five majority leaders in the Senate) remain firmly in place … Comprehensive reform must close the loopholes, lower contribution limits and allow candidates to run competitive campaigns by relying on small donations from everyday citizens. And we need to end unlawful personal use of campaign accounts by clearly spelling out what is not allowed.” 

National & State Roundup

  • The Charles and David Koch-backed network, Freedom Partners, announced its plan to spend $889 million in the 2016 presidential election, reported Politico. That is more than double the $407 million Freedom Partners raised in 2012, and more than each party spent in 2012.  
  • Heading into a campaign season expected to be “more dominated by secret money than any election since Watergate,” The National Journal reported that at least four likely Republican candidates are linked to social-welfare nonprofits staffed by allies that help to promote and advise the candidate, but don’t have to reveal their donors. 
  • Take Back Our Republic, a new group aimed at bolstering Republican support for campaign finance reforms, launched earlier this month with the mission to promote small donors and improve disclosure, according to The Washington Post. The group joins other conservatives calling for reform.  
  • A New York Times investigation showcased how in many states governors’ inaugural celebrations are bankrolled by many of the same supporters who contributed to their successful campaigns. 
  • A new report by the Center for Public Integrity revealed that the Internal Revenue Service has only audited 26 “social welfare” nonprofits specifically for political activity since 2010, a tiny fraction of the nonprofits it regulates, leaving out dozens of organizations that have spent millions on politics. 
  • On last week’s fifth anniversary of Citizens United, House and Senate Democrats introduced twelve bills to address the influence of big money on politics. The proposals included the Empowering Citizens Act, which would establish public matching funds for small donor contributions and strengthen coordination regulations, and the DISCLOSE Act which would require disclosure from all groups that spend in elections.