As Americans remember the one year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United with calls for action to limit corporate influence in politics and reverse the Court’s reckless decision, pro-corporate activists and their Republican allies in Congress seek to further erode corporate accountability and transparency. As American University Constitutional law professor, Maryland State Senator, and People For Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin writes, Citizens United not only ushered an avalanche of corporate and secret money in elections but also paved the way for more attacks on restrictions on corporate power. Raskin asks:
Do you want to wipe out the ban on federal corporate contributions that has been in place since 1907? This should be a piece of cake. If a corporation is like any other group of citizens organized to participate in politics for the purpose of expenditures, why not contributions too?
Apparently, the answer is “yes.” While the majority decision in Citizens United said that corporations can use money from their general treasuries to finance outside groups, the ban on direct donations from corporations to candidates was left intact. But as profiled in People For’s report “Citizens Blindsided,” corporations have a number of mouthpieces, front groups, and political allies who want to create even more ways for Big Business to influence American politics.
NPR’s Peter Overby reports that pro-corporate activists from groups like Citizens United and the Center for Competitive Politics now want Republicans in Congress to further weaken already-diluted laws on transparency and fairness in elections:
Citizens United has helped to upend the debate over political money — so much so that when the American Future Fund ran a radio ad targeting Sen. Kent Conrad earlier this month for the 2012 Senate race, it was treated as just part of the political game. Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, said this week that he won't seek re-election.
Michael Franz, a political scientist with the Wesleyan Media Project, tracks political ads.
"The effect of Citizens United in 2010 may not have been as huge, because what was going on had been set in motion earlier," he said. "But what the court did in Citizens United could suggest huge effects for other campaign finance laws down the road."
First of all, disclosure is under attack.
"Just because it may be constitutional to impose these disclosure rules, doesn't mean it makes for sound policy," said Michael Boos, counsel to the group Citizens United.
The federal ban on foreign donors faces a court challenge. House Republicans plan to vote next week to kill off public financing in presidential elections.
And the Center for Competitive Politics, an anti-regulation group, wants to undo the century-old ban on corporate contributions to federal candidates.
That was one of the first campaign finance laws on the books. The center says the corporate world now is far different from what it was in 1907, when Congress imposed the ban.
Even though Election Day is almost two years away, a shadowy political organization with ties to the agriculture industry is already on the air with negative ads attacking North Dakota’s Democratic Senator Kent Conrad. The American Future Fund, as profiled in People For the American Way’s report Citizens Blindsided, is run by GOP operatives in Iowa and funded by anonymous donors who likely have ties to Big Agriculture.
A New York Times report traced the group’s founding to the ethanol industry and their lobbyists, and Dan Morain of the Sacramento Bee wrote that groups like the AFF “operate in the shadows. Their donors are anonymous. The power behind them is rarely apparent. It’s impossible to track the exact amounts they spend on campaigns in any timely fashion.” The AFF is also responsible for running some of the midterm elections most misleading and disgraceful ads, including one spot that viciously attacked Iowa Congressman Bruce Braley over the Park 51 Islamic Community Center in New York.
Now, barely two months after the midterm election, the AFF is on the air in North Dakota criticizing Senator Conrad, who is up for reelection in 2012. The AFF spent over $10 million of secret money to sway the last election, and three good-government groups asked for an investigation into the AFF’s status as a 501(c)4 nonprofit. 501(c)4 groups don’t have to publicly disclose their donors but also cannot spend the majority of their money to influence elections. The AFF’s new ad campaign, which calls on North Dakota voters to “call Kent Conrad” rather than to vote against him, may be their attempt to avoid a possible IRS investigation into the amount of their political spending. But the AFF’s early spending shows that even though the midterm elections are over, political groups like the AFF with little transparency or supervision are gearing up to play an even larger role in the 2012 elections.