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Shaheen: 'Citizens United' Stopped Plan to Curb Surprise Medical Billing

Sen. Jean Shaheen, D-N.H., says dark money is making the work of Congress much more difficult. (Office of Sen. Shaheen)
Sen. Jean Shaheen, D-N.H., says dark money is making the work of Congress much more difficult. (Office of Sen. Shaheen)
January 17, 2020

CONCORD, N.H. -- As the tenth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision approaches, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said the nation's "broken" campaign-finance system has stopped Congress from fixing the issue of surprise medical billing.

As Shaheen recalled, lawmakers had been working on making sure that patients don't get sticker shock from their medical bills, when two huge, Wall Street private-equity firms poured $50 million into ads that misled and confused the public. Shaheen said a group with an innocent-sounding name -- Doctor Patient Unity -- was making scary claims about possible impacts on patients.

"Turns out, it wasn't concerned about patients at all," she said. "What they were concerned about was the bottom line of two private-equity companies who had invested in doctors that specialized in surprise billing. And the voters had no idea."

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, groups have spent $1 billion of so-called "dark money," hiding donors' identities, since the verdict in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission.

Supporters defend the court's decision, however, saying that political speech, including ads, should be protected by the First Amendment.

A report from the watchdog group Public Citizen found that the top 25 donors are responsible for nearly half of all contributions to super PACs.

Since being enabled by Citizens United and similar decisions, Shaheen said, their influence is stopping Congress from doing what the public wants and needs.

"This dishonest campaign around surprise medical billing is 'Exhibit A' in how broken our campaign-finance system is - the confusion, the misinformation and the destruction that happens because of Citizens United," she added.

A bill that would require disclosure of dark-money sources has passed the U.S. House, but is being blocked from discussion by Republican leadership in the Senate.

Polls show more than three-quarters of Americans would like to see Citizens United overturned. The tenth anniversary of the decision is Tues., Jan. 21.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - NH