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Impact of Citizens United Infuriates Some WV Voters

March 21, 2012

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Some West Virginians watching the impact of big money on the political process say they're furious about Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision which legalized unlimited corporate spending on campaigns.

Barbara Frierson of St. Albans, a member of West Virginians for Democracy, says she's angry about the way the presidential race has been influenced by big money, funneled through "super-PACs" which - according to figures from the Center for Public Integrity - have already spent more this year than in all of 2010. Frierson says the groups rarely are held responsible for their mudslinging.

"These PACs are not limited to telling the truth. They make things up about their other opponents, they make things up about their own candidate, and they can basically lie, cheat and steal."

West Virginians for Democracy pressed legislators to pass a resolution against Citizens United. Despite 50 co-sponsors, that proposal died in the Legislature - although Charles Town, Martinsburg and Jefferson County have passed similar resolutions.

Jefferson County Commissioner Frances Morgan, who was part of the unanimous vote there, says Citizens United blew a hole in the set of compromises that had controlled political spending.

"It has allowed money to enter politics to an extent that I really feel is taking politics away from the citizens and putting it in the hands of giant corporations."

The Supreme Court ruling has given corporations and labor unions the same free-speech rights as individuals. Other court decisions have ruled that spending money on campaign issue ads is a form of speech. The combination means Congress can't outlaw this type of spending, no matter how large.

Frierson thinks Citizens United has bent the political process completely out of shape. She cites the continued presidential candidacy of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich as an example, a campaign she says is funded almost entirely by Sheldon Adelson, a casino billionaire.

"Newt would have been out of there months ago, except he's got one guy who contributes huge amounts of money to his PAC."

The Sunlight Foundation says more than half of super-PAC money is spent on attack ads against a candidate's competitors. An ABC/Washington Post poll released last week found that seven out of 10 Americans think the super-PACs should be illegal.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV