Citizens United Four Years Later: The Tide of Secret Money in Elections

By Jessica Jones, Grassroots Advocacy Manager, League of Women Voters

In 2010, the Supreme Court opened the floodgates to allow big money and special interest influence to flow into our political system when they announced their decision in Citizens United v. FEC. None of us knew just how bad this decision would be for our democracy, but after two major election cycles, we’ve begun to see the impact of the secret web of dark money that’s attacking our electoral system, including the corrupting influence of big money and special interests in candidate campaigns. And now we are seeing new SuperPACs forming for congressional candidates on top of the ones we’ve seen for presidential campaigns.

For decades, the League has worked to ensure that citizen participation in the political process is not drowned out by special interests and big money donors. We believe that secret money has no place in elections. Recent research, done by the Center for Responsive Politics, NPR and the Washington Post, has uncovered a web of temporary organizations created to act as short-term bank accounts that pass money from secret, undisclosed donors to inject in electoral campaigns. During the 2012 election cycle this network of shadow organizations was able to raise $400 million and use it to influence the 2012 election.

The creation of candidate SuperPACs to provide unlimited funds for congressional campaigns remains problematic. In the 2012 election the use of SuperPACs was largely focused on presidential candidates, but the rapid expansion of SuperPACs to promote congressional candidates means that even more money will be spent to obtain influence over the political process and assert corrupting influences over politicians at all levels.

Court watchers are awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, which challenges the aggregate limits placed on an individual’s total contributions to political candidates or party committees. The removal of these limits would allow a three million dollar contribution by one person to federal candidates, thereby allowing an office holder or candidate to solicit an unlimited contribution for distribution to a number of candidates. A decision in this case is expected by the end of June.

The flood of money into our political system has become a tsunami threatening to drown out the voices of everyday citizens. Now, more than ever, we need real disclosure requirements to tell us from whom the money is coming and regulations that won’t allow groups and individuals to get around disclosure. The League will continue advocating at all levels of government to stop the flood of secret money that threatens to drown out the voices of voters across the country and that distorts our political system.

This piece was originally published on the League of Women Voters blog.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for the article.

Robert K.
Robert K4 years ago

Mike K, based on the fact that Steven G gave me a green star for a particularly radical statement, I believe he is fully aware of what you're saying and in agreement with you.

Robert K.
Robert K4 years ago

Kamia T How true. When you see someone giving their campaigns millions of dollars of personal money, there is one thing you should know for certain, that person doesn't belong anywhere near government.

Mike Kelly
Mike K4 years ago

Steven G. "SCOTUS: Obviously another corrupt arm of BIG government."

SCOTUS is the acronym for "Supreme Court of the United States". The term refers to the ENTIRE bench. Not all of the Justices on the Supreme Court voted in favor of Citizens United. I question your accuracy, Steven G, when you use the term "SCOTUS" to describe the actions of only republican-male Justices: Roberts, Scalia, Alito, Thomas, and Kennedy.

I believe that the acronym you are searching for is:SCrOTUS, or "Supreme Court republicans of the United States. It's a little confusing I know, Steven G. Maybe will be easier to remember if you remind yourself that these are all republican MALES. In the future, think 'Scrotum" when the republican males on the bench steal your voting rights, encourage billionaires to buy politicians, allow corporations to write our laws or decide the next Presidential election for the republican sock puppet and against the popular vote of the People, like they did in 2000, ushering in 8 years of President Cheneybush.

Liliana Garcia
Liliana Garcia4 years ago

"Nation Interrupted" in order to become an empire... It started around the second half of the nineteenth century but its progress has speeded up since then. All citizens are really its subjects, both inside and abroad.

Charlotte S.
Charlotte S4 years ago

if we all stopped watching the ads. refused the phone calls and told those running that we will not vote for anyone spending obscene amounts on their campaigns (and actually do it) we could stop this. How many of you tell your legislators and both parties that you support campaign reform?

Debbie Miller
Debbie Miller4 years ago

They never ever should have passed the bill that is allowing this to happen. The only way government can work well is when it serves the voice of the ordinary people!! Take that out of the equation and you give the power to those who wave the green!

Roger Bradley
Roger Bradley4 years ago

Politicians aren't elected any longer they are bought into office by the wealthy 1% to be at their beck and call.

Alorha Breaw
Alorha Breaw4 years ago

Citizens United = the Mafia in all it's corrupt power & glory.
To all the minds that made & allowed this to happen, in your next life may you come back as slugs in your most profitable toxic dump.
If there are as many christians in this country as I suspect, why do they keep supporting & sustaining the devil, evil or what ever name you wish to give this destructive force?
Money & religion & current resulting government are the most mis-used powerful tools I know of.
Thank you to the commenters who brought up Movement to Amend! To all who say your vote doesn't matter, it does! It is YOUR voice.. Please use it.

David Youmans
David Youmans4 years ago

The people that put together the name "Citizen's United", should be sued by the people of the United States for misrepresentation. The very name is an indication that the citizens of this nation were united in wanting this, which is an obvious lie...

If we don't get something done about this very soon, this whole country is going to start looking like Detroit, in the "Robocop" movies. Remember the corporation in that movie? if you don't, you really need to watch those movies now, because that's the direction we're headed...