Skeptics of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision warned that it would open the door to a handful of mega-wealthy donors to buy national elections. The consequences have been worse than anyone imagined.
Next year’s presidential contest is expected to cost up to $5 billion – more than twice that of the 2012 campaign. That’s enough to pay for a year of food stamps for 3 million poor Americans, or award $5,000 college grants to a million students.
Presidential candidates collected $400 million in contributions in the first half of this year, most of it from super-political action committees that can raise unlimited sums, according to a New York Times analysis. That’s 10 times the amount raised by super-PACs by this time in the last presidential cycle.
Citizens United gave corporations and individuals the right to spend unlimited sums to influence elections through groups such as super-PACs. So-called social welfare organizations can raise unlimited donations without disclosing their donors, as long as their primary activity is not election campaigning. In reality, these independent organizations function as fund-raising arms for candidates, raising many times more than their campaigns are legally permitted to do.
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Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a top Republican contender, has raised more than $120 million, far more than any other candidate, most of it through super-PACs. Democrat Hillary Clinton has collected $20 million through her super-PAC and other “independent” organizations.
Polls suggest Americans favor getting big money out of politics, but reform will come only when voters demand it. They must show they are willing to reward candidates who challenge the anti-democratic status quo in Washington, and reject those who don’t.