The 2012 primary for the Republican presidential nomination has seen million dollar negative ad campaigns flood the airwaves to cripple major candidates and powerful super-PACS continue to grow thanks to unlimited and anonymous contributions. These developments has led some in taking a second look at the legality of new forces unleashed and in play during this Republican primary and soon general election, that have put America on pace for its most costly election ever.
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission has been the most talked about Supreme Court decision in recent memory. A landmark decision in regards to campaign finance law, the court ruled 5-4 that political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, and that the government may not keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections. While corporations or unions may not give money directly to campaigns, the decision ruled that such groups may seek to persuade the public through other means, including ads. The current status of campaign finance law came to fruition when the Citizens United decision led to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals March 2010 decision on Speechnow.org v. Federal Election Commission, which ruled that the government may not limit donations to groups established to make independent political expenditures.
Immediately following and since the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United, critics and supporters of the decision have been found within all political parties, and several of the most influential voices in American government have been extremely vocal in their opinions. Notably, cameras caught Justice Samuel Alito provoke the ire of President Barack Obama on the floor of congress during the State of the Union when Alito appeared to mouth the words "not true" after the president criticized the court's decision.
Supporters of the decision say that it upheld the First Amendment rights of individuals acting through corporations and labor unions to participate in the political process, striking down regulations restricting political speech. Critics argue that the decision has enabled our political system to be corrupted by the influence of corporate money in elections, and call for an amendment to the Constitution.
Two years later we are seeing the results of Citizens United for the first time during a presidential election.
From December 1 until the Iowa caucuses on January 3, 45 percent of all ads airing in Iowa were directed against Newt Gingrich, including $3.4 million from Mitt Romney's super PAC Restoring our Future. Following a disappointing fourth place finish in Iowa and a $5 million contribution from one man, a visibly bitter Newt Gingrich returned the favor, stumping on rhetoric portrayed in ads financed by his super PAC attacking Romney's record as CEO of the private equity firm Bain Capital.
Andrew Rosenthal of The New York Times sums up the hypocrisy and unintended consequences of the Citizens United-enabled battle royal between the two candidates and their super PACs following the release of a trailer for "The King of Bain:"
"Many things come to mind about this infomercial, but here are two of them. The first is that the Winning Our Future PAC is flush with $5 million from the Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a practitioner of predatory capitalism if ever there was one. (What’s more rapacious than a casino?) The second is that it’s a gift to the Democrats, who can use this line of attack in the coming months—and not just against Mr. Romney. They can use it to boost the concept of regulation, necessary to protect workers like the ones in the ad.
So here’s the Citizens-United fallout headline: Casino magnate attacks unethical capitalism to help a pal on the right, helps the left."
The product of Citizens United, super PACs, spent $90 million in 2010. The Atlantic notes that the amounts super PACs will spend this year will be many multiples of that, as $32 million has already been raised.
After seeing the effect of the Gingrich v Romney super PAC war on the GOP primary thus far, and knowing that President Obama's super PAC Priorities USA Action has already raised $3,161,535 in the 2012 cycle, what are your opinions on Citizens United?
Citizens United Two Years Later