It is time for serious and lasting campaign finance reform in light of the landmark January 2010 Citizens United decision and the rise of Super PACs.
What was Citizens United about and what effect did the decision have on influencing and financing campaigns?
The case was brought by Citizens United, a conservative 501(c)(4) not-for-profit corporation engaged in issue advocacy and education, stemming from a complaint with the Federal Election Commission. The organization charged that 2004 pre-election ads for left-wing film producer Michael Moore’s movie, “Fahenheit 9/11” (a political film that attacked George W. Bush’s response to 9/11), constituted political advertising and thus under then current law, may not be aired 60 days before an election or 30 days before a party convention.
On Aug. 5, 2004, the FEC dismissed the complaint.
Based on its earlier experience, Citizens United elected to run TV commercials promoting its own film, “Hillary: The Movie,” during the 2008 campaign cycle. The film sought to “educate” the American people with respect to the record of then Sen. Hillary Clinton, who was running against then Sen. Barack Obama for the Democratic Party nomination.
This time around Citizens United was cited by the FEC for violating provisions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, also known as the McCain-Feingold Act, which restricted “electioneering communications” 30 days before a primary election. The result of the FEC action prevented Citizens United from running its ads.
The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. In a 5-4 decision, the court found in favor of Citizens United. It ruled that corporate funding of independent political broadcasts during election cycles cannot be limited under the First Amendment. The Supreme Court struck down the provision of McCain-Feingold that prohibited all corporations — both for-profit and not-for-profit — and unions, from broadcasting “electioneering communications” within 30 days of a primary, or 60 days prior to a general election.
The Citizens United case did not affect the continuing federal ban on direct contributions from corporations or unions to candidate campaigns or political parties. But the decision effectively allowed U.S. corporations and unions to spend as much as they want on “issue advocacy and education” at any time during — or between — election cycles — hence the influence of PACs in the GOP presidential race and other contests.
In light of the decision, it’s now time for Congress to take the necessary steps to limit the amount of influence that “outsiders” wield on our electoral process. We need to implement a series of common-sense steps to level the political playing field so that the biggest voices come from candidates and the citizens who have a paramount interest in the outcome of their elections — whether for the House, Senate or White House:
Personal Wealth: A candidate for the House, Senate or presidency can spend whatever personal wealth they wish without limit, however, once a candidate passes a certain threshold of contribution — decided by Congress — the U.S. government will match that contribution to the opponent.
Rationale: Today, citizens can only vote in the district of their domicile. A citizen does not have the right to vote in the district of their choosing. Corporations and unions should only be allowed to influence an election if they have a nexus to that district/state.
It makes no sense for “outsiders” to have undue or unfair influence in elections they have no nexus, or “interest” in. These new rules would make representatives more beholden to their constituents. The elimination of outside influence would reduce the vast amounts of money candidates and parties would need to raise and give a louder voice to those who have the greatest stake in the outcome of an election — the voters, corporations, unions and interest groups within that district or state.
Now is the time for fair and reasonable campaign finance reform. It is not in America’s interest to continue to allow elections to be conducted without regard for the rights of candidates and the people most affected by a particular election outcome.
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This piece originally appeared on Newsmax.
With Citizens United Decision and Rise of Super PACs in 2012 Election, Now is the Time for Campaign Finance Reform
By Bradley Blakeman
Bradley A. Blakeman teaches at Georgetown's Semester in Washington DC program. He most recently was the President of Freedom's Watch a right of center conservative advocacy 50…