Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.
In the first two quarters of 2011, President Obama raised $155 million dollars , an amount that is substantially more than what all the Republican candidates raised combined. And yet, thanks to the Roberts Supreme Court we don’t (and probably won’t ever) know who among the candidates has the most money behind their candidacy and where exactly that money comes from. This is just one of the many consequences of the Citizens United decision, a dramatic assault on American democracy that overturned more than a century of campaign finance precedent.
It’s been nearly two years since Chief Justice John Roberts and his band of right-wing brothers held that corporations had the same right as individuals to contribute directly to political campaigns and to participate in direct advocacy on their behalf. It was in that same case that the court decided such contributions should have no limits and need not be disclosed. Not only did the court turn the spigot on full blast; it hid its source almost entirely from view. Though the court upheld the concept of disclosure, the ruling allowed 501(c)(4) organizations to raise and spend unlimited corporate money–and those organizations, by law, need not disclose.
Of course, we saw some of the effect of Citizens United in 2010, when 15 percent of all money raised came from contributions that were only made possible by the court’s ruling. But as I noted in January, the midterm elections, because they were the first to be held in the wake of the ruling, were just a test case. Conservatives and their corporate allies were dipping their toes in the water, gauging the legal boundaries of the new landscape. They liked what they found. Now that they know there are essentially no boundaries to speak of, undisclosed money raised in unlimited sums has come to define how elections work.
For example, American Crossroads, the group headed by Karl Rove, intends to raise and spend $240 million for the Republican Party in 2012. Groups with the backing of the Koch brothers plan to raise an additional $200 million for the party. That represents substantially more than what John McCain spent on his entire candidacy in 2008. According to the New York Times, in addition to spending substantially on television advertising, these groups plan “to put far more money into voter contact, social media and grassroots outreach, hoping to buttress the [Republican] party’s own get-out-the-vote work.”
Of course, this kind of corporate overreach doesn’t just affect presidential politics.
Editor’s Note: Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.