The Upside of Citizens United: A Wakeup Call That Our Elections Are For Sale

Citizens United didn't change campaign politics that much, but it did expose how unsavory the nexus of politics and money have become.

It's the two-year anniversary of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court case that gave corporate the same free speech rights as people—including unlimited independent political spending.

Since then, there's been a good amount of pushback from progressives, worried that the decision could give small groups disproportionate political influence. Stephen Colbert has set up a mock superPAC to expose the corruption of campaign finance. Montana's Supreme Court just upheld a ban on corporate political expenditures in the state's elections. Activists across the country have planned events today and tomorrow, pushing for a constitutional amendment overturning the decision.

Yet there have been a handful of myth-busting pieces telling us to relax. The Atlantic's E.D. Kain wrote this week that Stephen Colbert (and, by extension, the media) have just as much political influence and money as corporations, and that "[m]oney flows regardless of whatever leaky, legal dams we erect. Closing one loophole merely opens another." In a interview, First Amendment lawyer and Citizens United attorney Floyd Abrams also insisted the decision has been misunderstood. Some have called into question the reach of campaign spending after a certain point, citing the failed campaigns of millionaires like Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman. Others assert that voting restrictions dictate election outcomes far more than a campaign's paid propanda.

These arguments only highlight how unsavory the nexus of politics and money have become—even before the ruling.

It'd be tempting to assert that with the rise of SuperPACs, political actors will be increasingly free of responsibility for the spread of misinformation. "The King of Bain," the 29-minute documentary produced by a pro-Newt Gingrich superPAC to criticize Mitt Romney, was peppered with inaccuracies and exaggerations—and officially, since it's an "independent" organization, it's not Newt's fault. But SuperPACs aren't the only ones who are lying with little consequence. An ad produced by Romney's presidential campaign in November blatantly took President Obama's words out of context.

Furthermore, this level of incendiary political attacks has been going on for decades. There's not much difference between the political environment that produced "The King of Bain" and the similarly slimy anti-John Kerry Swift Boat Veterans for Truth documentary, or even Barack Obama's thirty minute commercial in 2008.

The liberal media was in a tizzy over reports that billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson cut a $5 million check to a SuperPAC supporting Newt Gingrich, but as Abrams points out, he could do that regardless of the Supreme Court's ruling. Post-Citizens United, corporate donors' spending ceiling is unlimited and they have more anonymity; still, superPACs do have to reveal their benefactors. All things considered, campaign finance is pretty much as corrupt as its always been.

What Citizens United really did was put campaign finance—a topic previously reserved for wonks and pundits—onto the national stage, in the headlines, and on the nightly news. The case has become synonymous with money's enormous influence on politics. For progressives, Citizens United is a gift: It has provided the Occupy Wall Street set with a potent and tangible symbol for corrupt democracy, the kind only a high-profile Supreme Court case can provide.

Think of how momentous laws and decisions have affected other kinds of activism. The pro-choice movement has had a hard time inciting outrage over states' hundreds of little abortion restrictions—but imagine how fast people would rally if Roe v. Wade was about to be overturned. The open web movement existed long before SOPA, but it was the threat of legislation that kicked us into high gear, with impressive results. Similarly, Citizens United is a graceful shorthand for our deeply problematic election system, the kind of shorthand that every effective activist movement needs. When political analysts insist that the decision itself isn't so bad, we should be compelled to ask, "Compared to what?"

Photo via (cc) Flickr user sharoncubo.

via David Leavitt / Twitter

Anyone who has ever worked in retail knows that the worst thing about the job, right after the pay, are the unreasonable cheapskates who "want to talk to your manager" to get some money off an item.

They think that throwing a tantrum will save them a few bucks and don't care if they completely embarrass themselves in the process. Sometimes that involves belittling the poor employee who's just trying to get through their day with an ounce of dignity.

Twitter is rallying around a gal named Tori who works at a Target in Massachusetts after she was tweet-shamed by irate chapekate, journalist, and Twitter troll, David Leavitt.

Keep Reading

Childbirth is the number one reason American women visit the hospital, and it ain't cheap. In fact, it's getting more and more expensive. A new study published in Health Affairs found that the cost of having a baby with employer-sponsored health insurance increased by almost 50% in the past seven years.

The study evaluated "trends in cost-sharing for maternity care for women with employer-based health insurance plans, before and after the Affordable Care Act," which was signed into law in 2010. The study looked at over 657,061 women enrolled in large employer-sponsored health insurance plans who delivered babies between 2008 and 2015, as these plans tend to cover more than plans purchased by small businesses or individuals.

Keep Reading

A meteorite crashed into Earth nearly 800,000 years ago. The meteor was 1.2 miles wide, and the impact was so big, it covered 10% of the planet with debris. However, scientists haven't been able to find the impact site for over a century. That is, until now. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal believes the crash site has been located.

Tektites, which are essentially rocks that have been liquefied from the heat of the impact and then cooled to form glass, help scientists spot the original impact site of a meteor. Upon impact, melted material is thrown into the atmosphere, then falls back to the ground. Even if the original crater has disappeared due to erosion or is hidden by a shift in tectonic plates, tektites give the spot away. Tektites between 750,000 to 35.5 million years old have been found in every continent except Antarctica.

Keep Reading
The Planet