Yom Huledet Sameach, Citizens United
Last Friday marked the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which overturned 63 years of precedent, allowing corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited sums on independent political advertisements. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, independent groups using corporate money spent nearly $300 million on advertisements during the 2010 election cycle, compared to $70 million during the last midterm cycle– a 427% increase. Nearly half of that sum was spent by just 10 groups, topped by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, many of whom did not even disclose the source of their funding.
Jewish text is emphatic about the corrosive influence that unbridled spending can have on our democracy. The Talmud explains an ancient prohibition against public officials accepting gifts by saying, “[when] a man receives a gift from another he becomes so well disposed towards him that he becomes like his own person, and no man sees himself in the wrong.” When elected officials rely on wealthy and powerful interests for campaign contributions, the policies they advance are distorted in favor of moneyed interests. The Reform Movement for years has championed the cause of campaign finance reform in order to cleanse our democracy of the corrosive influence of money.
On the one year anniversary of Citizens United, it is time to close our eyes, make a few wishes, and blow out the candles in the hope of political action to mend the gaping loopholes in our campaign finance regulatory system. Here are my wishes:
- No more of this nonsense–On Friday, NPR quoted Federal Election Commissioner Don McGahn, saying, “We’re here today on what should be a happy day for those of us who sought clarity in the law, less regulation.” The Federal Election Commission is the agency charged with enforcing campaign finance law. When Commissioners publicly cheerlead for deregulation, the credibility of the agency is undermined. McGahn’s comments are especially frustrating in light of FEC’s 3-3 split this week over whether or not to beef up disclosure rules in order to close loopholes created by Citizens United.
- Pass the Fair Elections Now Act–For years, the Reform Movement has endorsed publicly financed campaigns as the best solution to the country’s broken campaign finance laws. In the 111th Congress, the Fair Elections Now Act, which would institute public financing for Congressional elections, advanced further in the legislative process than ever before. Members of Congress should reintroduce the legislation and pass it in the new Congress.
- A favorable ruling in McComish v. Bennett–In late March, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in another very important campaign finance reform case. The petitioners in the case want the Court to rule unconstitutional matching funds that ensure that candidates who voluntarily participate in public financing at the state level have the resources to compete with privately financed opponents. This case is an opportunity for the Supreme Court to end the legal sophistry that characterized its ruling in Citizens United and recognize that public financing is policy that promotes rather than restricts free speech.
- Legislative action in response to Citizens United–The one type of campaign finance regulation that the Roberts Court has categorically ruled Constitutional is disclosure requirements, but there are currently almost no laws regulating disclosure for the type of spending that the Court green lighted in Citizens United. It is far past time for Congress to act and create reasonable disclosure requirements for independent expenditures.
Thank you for indulging my wishful thinking. I hope the next year is a better year on the campaign finance reform front.