Today, in a dramatic overhaul of the campaign finance system, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Citizens United vs. FEC, with a 5-4 majority declaring that corporations are permitted to make unlimited independent expenditures to influence the outcomes federal elections.
This ruling will open the floodgates for oil companies like Exxon Mobil to spend vast sums of money to support candidates who stand with them and against a clean energy future. That's because for-profit corporations now have the ability to tap into their general treasuries for their electoral work, as opposed to having to work through more restricted connected federal PACs.
Consider the fact that Exxon Mobil's federal PAC spent just over $800,000 in the 2007-2008 election cycle. During the same time period, the oil giant spent more than $45 million on lobbying at the federal level, an advocacy area where there are no limits on how much can be spent. Even a small diversion of these funds from lobbying to elections would drastically increase the spending imbalance between Big Oil and those of us fighting for a cleaner, healthier planet.
The bottom line is that with unlimited spending permitted in the electoral arena, misinformation campaigns by Big Oil and other special interests will be amplified and more lethal, potentially drowning out the voices of the majority of Americans who support investing in clean American energy and reducing harmful carbon pollution.
While the Supreme Court has opened the door to oil industry-funded independent expenditures, we can work to reform the campaign finance system and curtail the influence of these corporate special interests. Since 1990, federal candidates have received more than $240 million in campaign contributions from PACs and individuals tied to the oil and gas industries. But by enacting a strong, voluntary public financing system, we can help candidates run for office without the influence of large corporate PACs and donors.
The Fair Elections Now Act (H.R. 1826 & S. 752) would enact public financing for federal elections and give candidates the option to run for office on a mixture of small contributions and public funds. The legislation puts a premium on grassroots fundraising, and enables candidates to run highly competitive campaigns without relying on large contributions.
But the most effective response will come from average citizens getting involved in the electoral process. To counter Big Oil's onslaught of TV ads funded by their corporate profits, Americans across the country and from all walks of life need to become active participants in our democracy. This will mean educating yourself and others, going door-to-door, having conversations among families, neighbors and friends and empowering others to take action and get out the vote.
The League of Conservation Voters is committed to working to ensure that federal elections are not paid for by Big Oil at the expense of our democracy. And, as an organization with hundreds of thousands supporters across all 50 states, we will continue to organize at the grassroots level for sound environmental policies and in support of candidates who will implement those policies.
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