Today may mark the two year anniversary of the Citizens United decision, but like Roe v. Wade, that other landmark decision marked this weekend, the case has transformed a fringe issue of the conservative movement into a central and dominating force in the political landscape.
It’s not just that the decision unwound campaign finance laws back to pre-Watergate days, it that it created an entirely new political economy that exists only in the shadows and is answerable to no-one. SuperPAC’s face no truth-in-advertising requirements and any fines levied by the practically hopeless Federal Elections Commission is seen simply as the cost of doing business for many of these organizations. Candidates can hide behind these purportedly “independent” groups and let them do the dirty work of Swift Boat smears while they simultaneously criticize the “tone in Washington.”
The decision has spawned such a mockery of our electoral system that it has taken a satirist, and a brilliant one at that, to demonstrate that really folks, the amount of money in politics is no laughing matter.
If there’s hope it is that the resulting flood of cash, in typical Republican over-reach form, has outraged just about every citizen of every stripe that there’s a good chance it’s most damaging effects can be mitigated. A multi-pronged resistance movement has emerged, one launched at the shareholder lever to push for disclosure of corporate political spending as a matter of best business practices, one launched by activists seeking to define “persons” under the constitution as natural persons and not corporations through a constitutional amendment, and yet another to Occupy Wall Street and demand for accountability for the financial crimes of the Bush years.
So to that end, Citizens United may be seen as the true catalyst of the progressive and populist resurgence of the Obama years. Now, if we can just not squander that energy, if we can stand strong in the push back against the corporate takeover of our democracy, then one day we may even thank, in a backhanded way, the Roberts Court for lighting that spark.
Photo from tracy o via flickr.