Calls for Change on Anniversary of Citizens United Decision

by Suzanne Potter, Nevada News Service

Hundreds of millions of dollars have poured into elections from political action committees since the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision. (Pawankawan/Morguefile)

Carson City – Nine years ago today, the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision changed U.S. politics by declaring that corporations have the First Amendment right to spend money on political campaigns. Critics say the court opened the door to billions of dollars from so-called dark money donors.

Hear an audio report from Suzanne Potter …

According the nonprofit group Issue One, independent super-PACs spent more than $800 million on campaigns between 2010 and 2016. Sheila Krumholz, executive director at the Center for Responsive Politics, said since the super-PACs don’t have to disclose their donors, voters can’t really evaluate the credibility of most political ads.

“If it’s unknowable, then we can’t know if it comes from Russia or Saudi Arabia, or China – or from Nevada,” Kromholz said.

According to the watchdog group ProPublica, the 2018 U.S. Senate Race between Dean Heller and Jacky Rosen attracted more than $64 million in “independent expenditures.” The U.S. House races for Nevada seats drew more than $20 million.

U.S. Senate Democrats recently introduced HR 1, which would require more transparency for political donors. But Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to bring it up for a hearing or vote, calling it a “power grab” by Democrats.

Krumholz said she thinks Citizens United cleared the way for billionaires to have an outsized influence on policy.

“It nearly takes us back to the pre-Watergate, pre-FEC days,” she said. “But instead of paper bags of cash dropped in phone booths, we have dark-money nonprofits.”

In 2017, Nevada became the 19th state to call on Congress to amend the Constitution to declare that free-speech protections do not apply to money spent on political campaigns, and that corporations don’t have the same legal rights as people.