A report (pdf) done at Princeton University that was released last year argued that democracy in America has been transformed into an oligarchy with wealthy elites wielding the power. Researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page wrote that this has been a gradual, long term trend predating decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon v. FEC making it harder for the public to perceive and even harder to reverse. Those rulings, however, may have sealed the deal.
How Corporations Run Congress: A Talk With Ryan Grim
Richard (RJ) Eskow, Huffington Post
Interview excerpt with Ryan Grim on The Zero Hour
Merriam-Webster’s first definition of “corruption” is “impairment of integrity, virtue, or moral principle.” Another is “a departure from the original or from what is pure or correct.” Has democracy been corrupted by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision? Has its integrity and virtue been compromised? Does today’s electoral process reflect what the Founders envisioned?
Writing the majority opinion in Citizens United, Justice Anthony Kennedy assured us that this decision would not have a corrupting influence on democracy. “(T)his Court now concludes,” wrote Kennedy, “that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”
Avoiding the appearance of corruption, as well as corrupting itself, was essential to the Court’s ruling, since the mere appearance of corruption discourages voters and hampers democracy. For the Court’s reasoning to stand, elected officials must forever remain like Caesar’s wife: above suspicion. Justice Kennedy’s opinion assured us that, even with “independent” spending limits raised, they would.
The Inside Story Of How Citizens United Has Changed Washington Lawmaking
Paul Blumenthal and Ryan Grim, Huffington Post
When Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy cast the deciding vote to gut a century of campaign finance law, he assured the public that the unlimited corporate spending he was ushering in would “not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” Because those authorized to give and spend unlimited amounts were legally required to remain independent of the politicians themselves, Kennedy reasoned, there was no cause for concern.
Just five years later, in a development that may be surprising only to Justice Kennedy, the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision is reshaping how, how much and to whom money flows in Washington.
How the flood of money released by Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (pdf) has changed elections has been the subject of much discussion, but the decision’s role in allowing that same money to soak the legislative process has largely gone unreported. According to an extensive review of public documents held by the FEC, the U.S. Senate and the Internal Revenue Service, as well as interviews with lobbyists and policymakers, Kennedy’s allegedly independent spending has become increasingly intertwined with lobbying and legislation — the precise appearance of corruption campaign finance laws were meant to curb.
Politically active nonprofits, known as “dark money” groups for their ability to shield the identity of donors, and super PACs, which take unlimited sums of money but must disclose donors, have become dominated by lobbyists and other political operatives with close ties to leaders in Congress. Meanwhile, businesses with issues before Congress are pumping increasingly more money into the lobbyist-connected organizations.
The Supreme Court initially established a narrow definition of corruption in the 1970s, but Citizens United used it to blow open the gates that had been holding back corporate money. The 2010 decision came as the U.S. legislative system had evolved into a near parliamentary system of party-line voting and expansive party networks extending seamlessly from the Capitol to party headquarters to lobbying firms to outside political groups. Most top congressional legislators now have “leadership teams” — informal but internally recognized groups of aides-turned-lobbyists who help raise funds.