-By Brendan Fischer
February 20, 2013- The U.S. Supreme Court could open the door to even more money in politics than it did in the disastrous 2010 decision Citizens United v FEC as it considers a new case challenging limits on how much wealthy donors can give directly to federal candidates and political parties. If the court sides with the challengers in McCutcheon v FEC, political power and influence in America would be further concentrated in the hands of just a few wealthy donors.
Citizens United Flawed in Light of 2012 Elections, but McCutcheon Might Be Worse
The Citizens United decision was premised on the notion that expenditures made "independently" of candidates are less likely to have a corruptive influence than direct contributions to candidates and parties.
The five justice Citizens United majority extended the reasoning established in the 1976 Buckley v Valeo case and held that limiting corporate independent expenditures does not serve a compelling governmental interest, since "the absence of prearrangement and coordination undermines the value of the expenditure to the candidate [and] … alleviates the danger that expenditures will be given as a quid pro quo for improper commitments."
The experience of the 2012 elections demonstrated why this reasoning was flawed.
Citizens United led to the development of Super PACs that could accept and spend unlimited amounts but in many cases were hardly independent at all, such as President Obama's Priorities USA and Mitt Romney's Restore Our Future. Both of these Super PACs were formed and run by former aides to each candidate and used the same media placement firms and consultants as the campaign they supported. The top donors to the Super PACs and their affiliated candidates also overlapped significantly.
And even though big-spending Super PACs and secretly-funded dark money groups did not swing the outcome of every race, they raised the cost of participating in politics. Every candidate had to raise more funds from wealthy donors and had to increasingly rely on large contributions, both to their campaign and to nominally independent Super PACs. This undermines the notion in Citizens United that, simply because a Super PAC does not officially coordinate with a campaign, a million-dollar contribution to a Super PAC would be of limited value to a politician. Candidates in the post-Citizens United world must increasingly depend on independent expenditures for victory — and they are inevitably indebted to those wealthy donors who write five-, six-, or seven-figure checks.