Former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold wrote a letter to the New York Times Magazine in response to what he calls an “absurd” piece on the Citizens United decision that Feingold says misses the biggest problem stemming from that disastrous decision: a new form of corruption in our democracy.
Here’s Feingold’s letter:
Matt Bai misrepresents the most fundamental consequence of the Citizens United ruling: that it’s a new system of corruption. For the first time in more than 100 years, corporations can now legally spend unlimited funds directly from their treasuries to influence elections.
The vehicles for this corruption are super PACs and their companion organizations: 501(c)(4) nonprofit corporations, or so-called social-welfare groups. These groups are now capable of accepting unlimited corporate funds and running napalm-negative television ads that advocate against the election of specific candidates, often without a scrap of disclosure. A new analysis from the Center for Public Integrity shows that companies, including some Fortune 500 corporations, have already given nearly $24 million to conservative super PACs this cycle. This is a result of Citizens United. Because of new Republican objections to disclosure laws (legislation they supported in the 1990s), we will most likely never know which corporations are participating. The article also neglects another mechanism for laundering corporate money: the Chamber of Commerce, which many predict will spend well north of $50 million dollars on this year’s election, all from corporations. And while elected officials and members of a president’s administration are legally restricted to soliciting a maximum of $5,000 for super PACs and 501(c)(4)s, they are free to attend lavish fund-raisers for these groups, which are often run by their own former staff members and strategists.
Observers of our campaign-finance system often gloss over the fundamental concerns of corruption and instead focus only on the partisan political ramifications, but the corruption is very real. McCain-Feingold still bans political parties from accepting unlimited contributions from corporate donors. One door to corruption was closed. Now Citizens United opened a new one, creating a nexus for corruption by allowing corporations to spend directly from their treasuries to influence elections. It must be overturned.