After Nine Years, Watchdogs Still Push to Overturn Citizens United

Since the Citizens United court decision nine years ago, watchdog groups have seen an “explosion” of anonymous, so-called “dark money” flooding into American politics. Photo: Pixabay

by Eric Galatas

DALLAS – It’s been nine years since the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its landmark Citizens United decision,
and grassroots groups in Texas and across the nation are still working to limit the influence of money in politics.

David Jones, president of the advocacy group Clean Elections Texas, says the ruling has opened up the floodgates for so-called dark money, anonymous and unlimited contributions made through third-party groups, to tilt U.S. elections.

“If the people who get elected are primarily elected because their campaigns are financed by a very narrow group of extremely wealthy people, not everyone is represented,” he states. “And so, it is a fundamental issue that goes to the core of our democracy.”

The 2010 Supreme Court decision, citing previous rulings, held that political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, and said the government cannot limit corporations from spending money to influence election outcomes.

Overturning the high court’s ruling would require a constitutional amendment. And Jones’ group and others are part of a 50-state campaign to do just that.

The new Democratic Party leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives chose the For the People Act as the first piece of legislation the body would take up and pass.

It looks unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled Senate, and even less likely to receive the signature of President Donald Trump.

But Adam Smith, strategic partnerships director for the group End Citizens United, says it’s a once-in-a-generation, anti-corruption package – in part because of its campaign finance rules.

“Things like requiring dark-money groups to disclose their donors, matching small donations with public funds – empowering those small donors,” he points out. “And it also restructures the Federal Election Commission, so that there’s really enforcement and accountability for people who break campaign finance laws.”

The For The People Act also includes provisions to make it easier to vote and to prevent voter suppression. And it tightens ethics rules for officeholders, requiring presidential candidates to release their tax returns and forbidding members of Congress from serving on corporate boards.

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