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Five Years Later: Political Impact of "Citizens United"

IMAGE: Protest events are planned around the nation today to mark the fifth anniversary of the Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. The ruling removed limits on the amount of money an independent organization can spend on political campaigns. Illustration credit: DonkeyHotey/Flickr.
IMAGE: Protest events are planned around the nation today to mark the fifth anniversary of the Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. The ruling removed limits on the amount of money an independent organization can spend on political campaigns. Illustration credit: DonkeyHotey/Flickr.
January 21, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa - People and organizations around the state and country are marking the fifth anniversary today of a controversial decision on political spending by the U.S. Supreme Court. The ruling under Citizens United removed limits on campaign spending by organizations independent from the candidates.

Stephen Spaulding, policy counsel with the nonpartisan watchdog group Common Cause, says the result is millionaires and billionaires have greater influence over elections at every level of government.

"We need people to be sure they speak out loudly and clearly to their representatives in the Statehouse and members of Congress," says Spaulding. "Tell them they care about the issue of money in politics, that there's far too much dark money influencing politics."

Spaulding says a new report from Common Cause shows donations from secret sources to activist organizations have influenced issues that range from minimum wage and gun control, to climate change and having an open Internet.

He adds, political campaign spending from undisclosed sources topped $170 million in 2014, and was more than $300 million during the 2012 presidential election.

"We're well over $500 million in money that is untraceable," says Spaulding. "That has been dumped into our elections, that otherwise likely would not have been spent, but for Citizens United."

Spaulding says the impact of Citizens United could be reduced or even eliminated with tougher disclosure laws for independent campaign spending. He also supports a proposed constitutional amendment giving Congress and the states the power to regulate campaign spending and require full disclosure of its sources.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - IA