WASHINGTON -- Six years ago today, the Supreme Court handed down its immediately controversial decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Finally, billionaires and corporations were free to express their love for political candidates and parties with the most precious gift of affection anyone could give: money, lots and lots of money.
The Citizens United ruling allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited sums from their treasuries on independent electoral activity (without getting too picky on the definition of "independent"). A subsequent lower court decision based on Citizens United extended this to wealthy individual donors.
Here are some of the people and corporate entities that the Citizens United decision bravely empowered. After years of injurious oppression, they could at last buy influence at will, as our Founding Fathers wanted them to. Because in the end, money actually wins.
In 2009, the year before Citizens United, casino magnate Adelson was worth a mere $9 billion. Since then, he has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to support GOP politicians, and now he's worth $26 billion. Though he couldn't send Mitt Romney to the White House in 2012, despite spending some $150 million in that effort, Republicans in Congress rallied around his lobbying campaign to ban online gambling (and protect his casino profits). These days, nearly every Republican presidential candidate and party leader makes the pilgrimage to his Las Vegas offices in search of his support.
Charles & David Koch
For decades, the billionaire Koch brothers ran a nationwide operation to back libertarian policies and Republican politicians behind the scenes. After Citizens United, they were finally able to be out and proud about the hundreds of millions of dollars that they and their stable of donors invest in elections and lobbying -- well, kind of. (They still try to obscure the money trail.)
The Kochs now lead a political operation similar in size to a national political party. Republican candidates flock to their donor conventions to present themselves to the billionaires and their very rich colleagues. The brothers publicly doubt the science on climate change, and as their money has flowed in, the GOP has similarly shifted against believing in science.
Let's not forget that the two Kochs are now worth a combined $82 billion. That's more than Bill Gates!
U.S. Chamber of Commerce
The leading lobbying voice for American corporations was freed by Citizens United to really pour its funds, whose donors the group refuses to name, into backing candidates who support big business. In the 2010 election cycle, the Chamber received millions from the health insurance industry to help stop the passage of health care reform. In addition to lobbying against the Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law in March 2010, it pumped money into supporting politicians who vowed to quickly repeal the new act.
Unleashed by Citizens United, other companies like Dow Chemical and Prudential Financial also put money into the Chamber's coffers ahead of the 2010 elections. Now, the group is busy trying to protect Republican lawmakers supportive of corporate America from those tea party politicians that it helped elect in 2010 and 2012.
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America
Depending on whom you believe, the pharmaceutical industry is the most put-upon sector of society (poor, misunderstood Martin Shkreli) or one of the most powerful lobbying forces in Washington.
Even before the Citizens United ruling, the industry's lobbying arm, known as PhRMA, had cut a deal with the Obama administration and Senate Democrats to support lobbying for health care reform so long as the proposed law didn't threaten industry profits. With the Citizens United decision coming down right before final passage, PhRMA was able to slip millions in corporate money into nonprofit groups, operated by Democrats, that would go on to support the re-election of senators who voted for the legislation.
Never one to forget to play both sides, PhRMA has also contributed millions to a group backing Republicans who opposed Obamacare.
The former mayor of New York City had used his wealth to obtain office in the Big Apple and now, thanks to Citizens United, he can spend his billions to help politicians who support his pet causes of gun control, environmental regulation, and education reform that expands charter schools and student testing. His money flows into congressional races, over to state legislative elections and even down to local school boards. We all know how communities were looking for a billionaire to have an unequal voice in their school board elections.
Paul Singer, Ken Griffin and Tom Steyer
Hedge fund managers, both current and former, are some of the most active donors in the post-Citizens United world with massive contributions to both Democrats and Republicans. As Griffin infamously said a few years ago, the really, really wealthy have "insufficient influence" in American politics.
Singer has pumped millions into efforts to elect Republicans who would protect the financial industry and push a neoconservative, pro-bombing foreign policy. He's trying to use his money to get Republicans to support gay marriage -- although that looks to be a lesser priority. He's also backed pro-charter school candidates in New York state.
Griffin has attempted to overcome his lowly position as an uninfluential billionaire by putting huge sums into efforts supporting Republicans in Congress and in his home state of Illinois. Not hung up on party labels, he also spent millions to support Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who backed the financial industry's push for privatization of city assets, and the Chicago mayor's favored city council candidates.
The biggest individual donor to Democrats is ex-hedge fund manager Steyer, who is spending hundreds of millions to back candidates who would act to prevent climate change.
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