My new Slate column begins:
Most of what you hear about Citizens United v. FEC is negative. By opening the door for corporations to spend unlimited sums in elections and to allow for the creation of Super PACs, the Supreme Court has made a campaign finance system that was already flooded with money much worse. But Citizens United obviously has its defenders, and they have advanced a number of arguments to try to blunt criticism of the Supreme Court’s controversial decision: The public actually learns from the flood of negative advertising coming from these Super PACs; Super PACS increase competition; The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision didn’t create Super PACs, so stop blaming the court for the flood of dollars and the negative campaign ads they buy.
And (literally) the money quote (based on data from the Center for Responsive Politics):
Let’s focus only on presidential election years, to keep the comparisons as simple as possible. In the 1992 election season, when it was entirely possible (under that 1976 Supreme Court decision) for Sheldon Adelson or George Soros to spend unlimited sums independently on elections, total outside spending up to March 8 was about $1.5 million. In 2000, total outside spending up to March 8 was $2.6 million. In 2004 and 2008, with the explosion of 527 organizations, total spending to March 8 was $14 million and $37.5 million. What is the total for this election season through March 8? More than $88 million, a 234 percent increase over 2008 and a 628 percent increase over 2004. If this was not caused by Citizens United, we have a mighty big coincidence on our hands.
And, of course, this is only the total leading up to March 8, midway through the Republican primary. Wait until the Super PACs and other organizations start raising their unlimited sums for the general election. Further, lots of groups are now using 501(c) organizations rather than Super PACs for their campaign spending, in an effort to hide their donors. A Center for Responsive Politics study found that in 2010 the percentage of “spending coming from groups that did not disclose their donors rose from 1 percent to 47 percent since the 2006 midterm elections,” and “501(c) non-profit spending increased from 0 percent of total spending by outside groups in 2006 to 42 percent in 2010.” The same report found that 72 percent “of political advertising spending by outside groups in 2010 came from sources that were prohibited from spending money in 2006.”
Don’t miss this graphic accompanying the article.