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Citizens United and the 2012 Presidential Election

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For the second month running, Mitt Romney has raised more than $100 million for his Presidential Campaign bid, thanks in large part to conservative leaning Super PACs (political action committees) and individual donors.  President Obama raised $75 million in July where 98% of his donors contributed less than $250 per contribution (average donation $53).

United States Supreme Court

With the Citizens United case squarely on point in this 2012 presidential election, several stories of note have emerged in recent weeks.  Citizens United, a U.S. Supreme Court case decided in 2010, provides first amendment free speech protections to corporations allowing unfettered electioneering contributions to specific candidates or causes directly from a corporation’s general treasury funds.  As we watch the November 2012 election unfold, it will be very interesting to see whether Citizen’s United ushers in an era of unprecedented election spending and negative campaigning, which many have predicted.

Two excellent articles showcase Citizens United and its apparent impact on the 2012 election.  The first is an exposé on the behind the scenes maneuvering engaged in primarily by Chief Justice John Roberts in getting the Citizens United result he sought in 2010:

Money Unlimited:  How Chief Justice Roberts Orchestrated the Citizens United Decision, by Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker.

The second is an examination of Citizens United impact on the current election:

How Much Has Citizens United Changed the Political Game? by Matt Bai in The New York Times Magazine.

From Matt Bai’s How Much Has Citizens United Changed the Political Game?:  “Conservative groups alone, including a super PAC led by Karl Rove and another group backed by the brothers Charles and
David Koch, will likely spend more than a billion dollars trying to take
down Barack Obama by the time November rolls around. The reason for this exponential leap in political spending, if you talk
to most Democrats or read most news reports, comes down to two words:
Citizens United. The term is shorthand for a Supreme Court decision that
gave corporations much of the same right to political speech as
individuals have, thus removing virtually any restriction on corporate
money in politics. The oft-repeated narrative of 2012 goes like this:
Citizens United unleashed a torrent of money from businesses and the
multimillionaires who run them, and as a result we are now seeing the
corporate takeover of American politics.” 
But, according to Bai:  “Legally speaking, zillionaires were no less able to write fat checks
four years ago than they are today. And while it is true that
corporations can now give money for specific purposes that were
prohibited before, it seems they aren’t, or at least not at a level that
accounts for anything like the sudden influx of money into the system.
According to a brief filed by Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority
leader, and Floyd Abrams, the First Amendment lawyer, in a Montana case
on which the Supreme Court ruled last month, not a single Fortune 100
company contributed to a candidate’s super PAC during this year’s
Republican primaries. Of the $96 million or more raised by these super
PACs, only about 13 percent came from privately held corporations, and
less than 1 percent came from publicly traded corporations.”

In what appears to be an unprecedented era of election spending, these two articles are interesting reads.

(photo is in the public domain)


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