Two years ago the Supreme Court delivered a near-fatal blow to our already weakened campaign finance regulations by giving corporations the right to spend unlimited amounts of money on supporting or attacking political candidates. The decision is called Citizens United v Federal Election Commission, and it changed one hundred years of election laws with the stroke of a pen. Now, top executives within corporations can use their companys immense treasuries to tip public opinion in favor of the candidate that supports their corporate agenda. These corporate manipulators do this through so-called corporate SuperPACs, which spend immense sums on PR campaigns designed to frame important campaign issues in their own interest. SuperPACs spent well over $300 million in 2010 mid-terms on attack ads and other public outreach - more than three times the amount spent in the 2006 mid-terms.
A handful of large SuperPACs funded by either wealthy individuals or anonymous corporations including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Karl Roves American Crossroads, and the American Action Network have threatened candidates for the 2012 elections with corporate cash, promising to spend over $100 million apiece on political communications to influence the election. (Source:NY Times)
These shadowy entities use their corporate money as a threat, promising millions of dollars in retribution if candidates dont adopt policies approved by the richest Americans. A recent example of how these PACs will distort the discourse is a vicious and deceitful attack ad being run by Americans for Prosperity, a Koch-brothers-funded front group that reportedly expects to spend $200 million during the 2012 elections. The AFP ad, which attacks Obamas character and clean energy jobs programs, was powerful enough to elicit a response from the Obama campaign, which attempted to set the record straight with its own video. The response to the Koch/AfP ad was the first one that president Obamas reelection campaign released this year, an indication of how seriously these unaccountable corporate-funded attacks are being taken. The result will surely be an election-year arms race of spending on ads and other messages, with opposing campaigns having to spend greater and greater amounts of money just to counter all the corporate donations aligned against them.
The SuperPACs like AfP (which also has deep ties to the Tea Party, and thus an organized ground war to align with its arsenal of attack ads) do not have to disclose where they get their money, and have only superficial restrictions on their ability to coordinate with their favorite candidates, making it obvious that anyone who wishes to get elected this year will have to bend their platform in order to serve one or another corporate interest. Its no wonder that dozens of groups (including Greenpeace) have endorsed theprotest eventsthat mark the second anniversary of the Citizens United decision.
Regardless of the outcome of the 2012 elections, one thing is clear already: The Supreme Court has increased the power of corporations and wealthy individuals like the Koch brothers to buy and sell politicians. Court watchdogs including Common Cause suggest the Court's independence has also been tainted by the same corporate cash:Justices Thomasand Scalia have both reportedly attended private gatherings of wealthy individuals organized by Charles Koch.
As in so many other areas of public life, we have witnessed the gradual meshing of corporate and judicial power over recent decades (a history we explored in our recentanalysis of the Powell memo). As activists recently pointed out, we effectively live in the age of the Supreme Koch.
To protest the corporate takeover of our elections,join the coalition of over 60 groups that have organized a week of action to protest the Citizens United decisionand its effects on our elections. There is even a map to help you find an event in your area.
To learn more, check out this great explanation on Citizens United here:http://storyofcitizensunited.org
Jesse Coleman is a researcher with the Greenpeace Investigations team. His focus is on front groups, fracking, and the oil and gas industry. Jesse's work has been featured in The Guardian, The New York Times, The Colbert Report, Al-Jazeera, MSNBC, and NPR.