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WV Joins Backlash Against 'Citizens United' Decision

GRAPHIC: Demos and U.S. PIRG say Citizens United has turned campaign donations into "the millionaires club." Courtesy of Demos.
GRAPHIC: Demos and U.S. PIRG say Citizens United has turned campaign donations into "the millionaires club." Courtesy of Demos.
January 21, 2013

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Last year's elections were the most expensive in history, and West Virginia lawmakers are being pressed to help a national effort to get the big money out of politics. During the next legislative session, clean-election groups will push lawmakers go on record for amending the U.S. Constitution to reverse the "Citizens United" decision. That's the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that ended campaign spending limits for corporations and special interest groups.

A new report from the watchdog group Demos says political fundraising is dominated more than ever by big businesses and their wealthy owners. Adam Lioz, Demos' staff counsel, explains how it worked.

"The top 32 super-PAC donors, contributing an average of nearly $10 million each, matched all of the money that both President Obama and Mitt Romney raised from small donors, combined. That's $313 million, from at least 3.7 million people giving less than $200 apiece."

The Demos says the campaign finance system favors incumbents over challengers and grassroots candidates, and makes it impossible to track some donations, which don't have to be reported if they fall outside a certain time period before the elections.

Another report, released by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), says almost one-third of the outside spending reported to the Federal Elections Commission was by organizations that do not have to disclose the original sources of their funds.

Blair Bowie, a democracy advocate with the U.S. PIRG Education Fund, says voters didn't know who was really behind more than half of all presidential TV ads paid for by outside groups – and Congressional races were affected, too.

"In the 20 states we analyzed, 90 percent of outside spending on House and Senate races came from out-of-state groups."

This weekend around the country, groups are planning rallies and other events to coincide with the third anniversary of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision.

The Demos report, "Billion-Dollar Democracy," is available at www.demos.org. The U.S. PIRG report, "Elections Confidential," is at www.uspirgedfund.org. More Citizens United protest events are listed at www.moneyout-votersin.org.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV