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Nine Years Later, Watchdogs Watch for Reforms to Citizens United

Since Citizens United nine years ago, watchdogs say there has been an "explosion" of anonymous, so-called "dark money" flooding into American politics. (Wikipedia)
Since Citizens United nine years ago, watchdogs say there has been an "explosion" of anonymous, so-called "dark money" flooding into American politics. (Wikipedia)
January 15, 2019

CHARLESTON, W. Va. — Critics of the Citizens United court decision say it's resulted in an explosion of dark money in the political system, possibly even from foreign sources. But some see hope in a new package of reforms just passed by the U.S. House.

The Supreme Court handed down the Citizens United decision nine years ago this month. Sheila Krumholz is executive director at the Center for Responsive Politics. She said she thinks the court didn't realize how big an impact it would have to create a loophole for anonymous donors to fund and influence American political campaigns.

Krumholz said secret money can have long strings attached.

"We can't know if it comes from Russia or Saudi Arabia or China or from Nevada,” Krumholz said. “Troubling enough that corporate interests might hold such sway, or unions. But even more troubling is the notion that our sovereignty could be at risk."

Citizens United lawyers argued donations are a form of free speech. Watchdogs cite the campaign finance reforms in the We The People Act, which just passed the House. Some say it includes needed tightening of the laws.

The new Democratic leadership in the House specifically chose the We The People Act as the first piece of legislation the body would take up and pass. It looks unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled Senate, and even less likely to receive the signature of President Donald Trump if it reaches his desk.

But Adam Smith, strategic partnership director with the group End Citizens United, said it's a once-in-a-generation anti-corruption package - in part because of its campaign-finance rules.

"Things like requiring dark-money groups to disclose their donors, matching small donations with public funds, empowering those small donors,” Smith said. “And it also restructures the Federal Election Commission so that there's really enforcement and accountability for people who break campaign-finance laws."

The We The People Act also includes provisions to make it easier to vote and prevent voter suppression. And it tightens ethics rules for officeholders - requiring presidential candidates to release their tax returns and forbidding members of Congress from serving on corporate boards.

Detailed, specific political spending records are available at OpenSecrets.org.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV