May 5, 2011- Unprecedented political spending. Secret donors. New ways for unions and corporations to spend money on politics.
An analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics reveals that the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court ruling of January 2010 has profoundly affected the nation's political landscape.
Corporations and unions both benefited from the ruling, being able to use their general treasuries to pay for independent expenditures for the first time.
Unions spent more than $17.3 million from their general treasuries on independent expenditures opposing Republican candidates such as Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) and James Renacci (R-Ohio). The American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees spent more than $7 million out of their general treasury, the most of any other union.
The National Education Association had a different strategy. It set up a so called "super PAC" and financed it with $3.3 million from its general treasury. Pre-Citizens United unions could only spend money on independent expenditures using funds that were voluntarily donated to their political action committee by union members. Now unions can tap into funds that come directly from union member's dues. Unions are still banned from using their treasuries to donate to congressional campaigns and party committees.
Corporations generally did not directly get involved in political spending but rather donated more than $15 million to a new type of political group known as a "super PAC". These groups may raise unlimited amounts of money from any source as long as the donors are disclosed and the groups only spend money on independent expenditures. The top two corporate donors in 2010 were TRT Holdings and Alliance Resource Partners, which each donated about $2.5 million to the 'super PAC' American Crossroads. Corporate donations are likely higher than reported as conservative non-profit groups spent $121 million without disclosing where the money came from.
The ruling allowed corporations and unions to use their general treasuries to pay for political advertisements that expressly call for the election or defeat of a candidate, also known as independent expenditures. This ruling subsequently allowed non-profit corporations under the tax code 501c to spend unlimited amounts of money running these political advertisements while not revealing their donors.
Influencing elections cannot, by law, be the primary purpose of the non-profits.
These nonprofits certainly took advantage of their new power, however, spending $61.3 million on independent expenditures in 2010.
Top findings of the Center's study include:
•The percentage of spending coming from groups that do not disclose their donors has risen from 1 percent to 47 percent since the 2006 midterm elections
•501c non-profit spending increased from zero percent of total spending by outside groups in 2006 to 42 percent in 2010.
•Outside interest groups spent more on election season political advertising than party committees for the first time in at least two decades, besting party committees by about $105 million.
•The amount of independent expenditure and electioneering communication spending by outside groups has quadrupled since 2006.
•Seventy-two percent of political advertising spending by outside groups in 2010 came from sources that were prohibited from spending money in 2006