In January 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision that transformed our political system, ruled in favor of Citizens United. The judicial split along ideological lines underscored the public contention to follow. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy argued, “[T]his Court now concludes that independent [political] expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”
Oh Kennedy, you silly fellow. In upending the corporate and union ban on independent expenditures and financing electioneering communications, the decisive heyday of individual donors effectively ended. SCOTUS handed the power to spend unlimited sums on ads and other political tools to corporate, non-human interests that have overrun elections with their “voices.” It’s no surprise that private citizen engagement in the electoral process has plummeted.
In the nearly six years since the decision was handed down, the verdict has been one of few issues capable of garnering bipartisan rancor. On January 21, 2015, U.S. News & World Report featured a piece by Truman Anderson of the Stuart Family Foundation entitled, A Case for Reform: Conservatives Should Take a Principled Stand Against Citizens United. He sought to rally Republicans to take up the cause, writing:
“Conservatives are rightly convinced that neglect of founding principles accounts for many of the country’s present difficulties. This has a direct bearing on conservatives’ attitudes towards federal regulation of political spending. They will reject any law that does not seem consonant with our original constitutional thought or which seems motivated merely by the passions of the day.”
Throughout the 2016 primary season, I have been irked over and again by comparisons between Democratic candidate and Vermont Senator, Bernie Sanders, and loudmouth Republican cartoon Donald Trump. Beyond tapping into the frustration of their respective parties, what could these two men possibly have in common besides being white, male and over the age of 65? And then this week, as I listened to Bernie Sanders solicit campaign donations from the debate podium (resulting in a quick $1.3 million from liberals Feelin’ the Bern), it hit me.
I may not like it. Sanders might not like it. But yes, after all, these two politically divergent men have a very important connection driving their primary fortunes. Fucking Citizens United.
In much the same way that Sanders is viewed as the liberal Occupy Wall Street movement’s hero, the champion of the 99 percent, the incorruptible, irascible truth talker, Trump has successfully occupied the same space at the other end of the spectrum. Earlier this month, we learned that the Donald has spent just $2 million on his campaign to date. Though Trump has more than enough money to finance his primary journey (like Carly Fiorina in days gone by), here’s the kicker: he hasn’t needed it. Earlier this month, Ari Melber of MSNBC wrote:
“Politicos and reporters often cast Trump as a self-funded outsider candidate, assuming he will follow the pricey campaign model of businesspeople like Meg Whitman and Michael Bloomberg, each of whom spent $100 million of their own money on a single race. Three months into Trump’s unusual campaign, however, the evidence suggests his candidacy remains largely buoyed by his celebrity status and free press, not his actual wealth.”
This is exactly the way Trump supporters like it. And once again, though the Republican and Democratic bases may not be able to agree on the color of the sky, voters on both sides of the aisle are disgusted with the fallout from Citizens United.
Senator Lindsey Graham, struggling to connect with Republican primary voters, is wisely trying to steal from the Sanders/Trump playbook. After joking earlier this week, “You want to get money out of politics? Join my campaign. We’ve accomplished that,” the South Carolina Senator offered something further. If elected, he claims to make an anti-Citizens United Constitutional amendment a “priority.”
This is just another example of the GOP allowing Trump to pull them in his direction. Sick of the show? More than ready for the Donald to go away? Looking for someone to blame? Consider the SCOTUS.