Citizens United was the Supreme Court decision that struck down part of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law and opened the door to unrestricted corporate funding of political advocacy. To many on the left, this decision represented a gross miscarriage of justice and predictions of the corporate takeover of the electoral process have been plentiful.
The highest profile case of corporate funding so far has been the one involving the Target Corporation, whose contributions to a politician hostile to gay marriage resulted in a substantial backlash.
Right here in Wisconsin, especially in the 8th congressional district, the dire predictions of negative corporate influence on elections are easy to dismiss when you look at the current circumstances.
First, we have news this week that outgoing governor Jim Doyle contributed $1,000,000 to the Greater Wisconsin Committee PAC. The GWC is a non-profit corporation with tax-exempt status. As an independent advocacy group they do not support or oppose individual candidates. However, they also have a political action committee (PAC) that can (and does) work to support and oppose specific candidates such as Scott Walker. Is it any surprise that Doyle's largesse went to the PAC arm of GWC?
Next, we have our congressman, Steve Kagen, who currently has over $700,000 cash on hand to defend himself in a general election that lasts only six weeks. That amount of cash is more than ten times what the nearest GOP candidate has on hand. Before you go thinking such an overwhelming cash advantage represents the heartfelt desires of the people of WI-8 to see Kagen returned to office, you should check the source of his funds.
For every dollar Kagen raises from individual donors, he raises more than a dollar from political action committees. Lawyers/Law Firms are number two on his list of donors by industry, and at least five of the top twenty are related to unions (almost all of this from union PAC's, not individuals).
I realize that it's possible in our two party dominated system for the pendulum to swing the other way. Also, it's clear that groups on the right use the tax exempt organization/PAC conglomeration to advocate for candidates that they prefer. But the way things stand now, it's not hard to see how Citizens United seems a lot less menacing than its opponents claim.