|By sue fothergill
Interim Organizing Director
January 19, 2024
PACs, Super PACs, and dark money, oh my.
We all know money in politics is a huge problem. Political influence is a currency that has become disproportionately available to wealthy individuals and special interest groups, and Citizens United only hastened this trend.
“Citizens United” is shorthand for a landmark 2010 Supreme Court case (Citizens United v. FEC) that overturned long-standing restrictions on political fundraising and spending and transformed the entire political landscape of the country. Citizens United granted corporations, nonprofits, unions, and wealthy individuals virtually unlimited political spending power.
What’s a Super PAC got to do with it?
The rules Citizens United overturned were related to the “independent” political spending coming from PACs (Political Action Committees) and also gave rise to “Super PACs.”
PACs are “independent” groups created to raise money to support a particular candidate. Any individual or group can form a PAC, and traditional PACs can donate directly to a candidate’s campaign fund. Perhaps the most visible we see PACs in action is through inescapable ads that either promote or attack an individual candidate.
Super PACs are essentially PACs without the fundraising caps. While Super PACs cannot donate directly to individual campaigns, they can raise unlimited amounts of money and accept unlimited contributions from corporations, non-profit groups, unions, and wealthy individuals… and they can spend that money pretty much however they want.
What has happened since Citizens United?
Citizens United opened the floodgates to outside spending and exponentially increased political ad spending. Pre-Citizens United, CNN reported that Republicans and Democrats combined campaign ad spending was nearly $40 million on the 2008 Iowa Caucuses.
But surely Citizens United increased political discourse and civic engagement, right?
This year, the Iowa Caucuses featured only GOP candidates. Despite this, the campaigns and their allied Super PACs still managed to spend a jaw-dropping $124 million on political ads in a race that drew only about 110,000 voters… That’s roughly $1,124 per voter who showed up.
Outside spending went up, and voter participation went down. I have my opinion, but we’ll leave it to you to decide if political discourse is better today than it was before the 2010 Citizens United ruling.
Can we do something about Citizens United?
RepresentUs strongly supports efforts to overturn Citizens United through a proposed Constitutional Amendment, but Washington gridlock and vested interests have thus far prevented Congress from acting.
If we overturned Citizens United tomorrow, we’d be rid of super PACs, and independent political expenditures would be better regulated. However, America’s corruption problem is so much more than one Supreme Court ruling, and RepresentUs has a comprehensive strategy to end it.
Join us in sending a message to your representative right now telling them to support these commonsense anti-corruption action items.
RepresentUs is America's largest nonpartisan anti-corruption organization working city by city, state by state to pass tough anti-corruption laws, restore public confidence in government, and hold politicians accountable to the people. If we're going to fix our broken political system, we need Americans from all across the country to join our movement.