January 25, 2011
Citizens United One Year Later: The Bastion of Public Financing Crumbles?
It has been a little over a year since the United States Supreme Court held that it was unconstitutional to limit corporate spending in federal elections. When the decision was first issued in Citizens United v. FEC, many thought corporations would be reluctant to engage in unlimited corporate spending. A year later, the numbers tell a different story. A recent report issued by Public Citizen reveals a dramatic increase in corporate spending in the 2010 mid-term elections from $68.9 million in the 2006 cycle to $294.2 million in the 2010 cycle. Another study by OpenSecrets.Org reveals that the 2010 election marks the rise of a new political committee, dubbed "super PACs," and officially known as "independent-expenditure only committees," which can raise unlimited sums from corporations, unions and other groups, as well as wealthy individuals. As the role of corporate funds increased in 2010, other developments loom this year that may diminish the role of public campaign financing. First was the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to accept certiorari in a challenge to the “trigger” provisions of Arizona’s public financing law. Now, an effort moves forward in Congress to repeal outright the system of public financing in Presidential elections, in effect since the 1976 election cycle. This week House Republicans are taking up a bill, H.R. 359, which if passed would terminate taxpayer funding of Presidential elections. Much as the New York Times urged, the Obama Administration’s position is that Congress should “mend it, not end it.” House Republicans, however, counter that repeal would save taxpayers over $520 million in the course of a decade. One thing is clear: America’s campaign financing systems remain in a volatile process of transformation. The pace of change may now be accelerating. Which components will remain when the dust settles?