Ten years ago exactly — on Jan. 21, 2010 — the Supreme Court gave the green light to unlimited political expenditures by corporations, labor unions and nonprofit groups. The decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which said curbs on such spending violated the First Amendment, fundamentally changed the way elections are financed today.
A decade later the majority opinion in Citizens United is labeled, more often than any other single thing, as the ultimate antagonist of the democracy reform movement. The ruling has become so infamous it's used as shorthand for a campaign financing system that gives lopsided political advantage to the wealthiest over everyday citizens, including for reasons that have nothing to do with that case. That said, however, the decision has permitted groups that are not affiliated with any candidate or political party to pour almost $4.5 billion into the subsequent campaigns for president and Congress — an astonishing six times the total for all such independent expenditures in the two previous decades.
The 10-year anniversary has campaign finance experts all along the ideological spectrum reflecting on what the decision has meant for American politics, and what changes to laws and regulations might withstand court challenges and limit the impact of Citizens United in the decade ahead — on the assumption the ruling is on the books for at least that much longer.
The Seattle City Council unanimously approved legislation Monday that would ban most spending on local politics by foreign-influenced corporations.
The measure would prevent corporations owned in whole or in significant part by foreign entities from spending money in local elections. Seattle is the second city to enact such a measure. The other is St. Petersburg, Fla.
Seattle's legislation was advanced in response to corporations led by Amazon — which is headquartered in the city and is the region's biggest tech employer — spending millions to influence the city's election last year. Although it's based in the United States, Amazon could still be barred from future political spending in Seattle if its foreign investors own a considerable portion of the company.
Hitting the restart button on the Federal Election Commission during this campaign season is not the answer to better enforcement of the rules regulating money in politics, a coalition of good-government groups says.
Twenty-one such organizations declared their disagreement Monday with a proposal from a bipartisan collection of 31 prominent campaign finance lawyers. Last week the lawyers asked President Trump and the leaders of Congress to come up with an entirely new slate at the FEC to oversee campaign donations and spending in this year's presidential and congressional races.
Since the law allows half the commissioners to favor broad deregulation, because they're Republicans, lax enforcement and gridlock would be the end result of such an overhaul, the reform groups argued. Instead, they called for the confirmation of one or two new commissioners to create a quorum permitting at least minimal oversight through November.
Curbing overseas influence in Maryland's elections is top of mind for two state lawmakers on the cusp of a new legislative session.
The pair of Democrats introduced legislation this week that would prohibit foreign-influenced corporations from making contributions to candidates or political committees in state elections.
Prospects for the bill are not clear. But if it's enacted, the state adjacent to Washington (where foreign influence in politics is a top-tier concern that's not been matched with any federal legislative response) would become the first in the country with such campaign finance restrictions.