A Center for Responsive Politics Statement on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission

The following is a statement from Center for Responsive Politics’ Executive Director Sheila Krumholz on the Supreme Court’s ruling today on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission:

Today’s Supreme Court decision on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission overturns a decades-long ban on unlimited independent expenditures by corporations and labor unions — a move that could bring enormous changes in the way American elections are run and financed. Although the law has consistently prohibited such expenditures, this decision belies the tenuous nature of precedent: Things change.

But some things remain the same — such as the need for transparency. In today’s opinion, the Supreme Court upheld the need for disclosure, writing:

“With the advent of the Internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable …[C]itizens can see whether elected officials are ‘in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests …and disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way. This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.”

In sum, with new paths for money to enter into the political bloodstream, transparency is now more essential than ever. And transparency is what the Center for Responsive Politics delivers.

Whether coming from political action committees, individuals or corporate or labor treasuries, billions of dollars already power political campaigns at the federal level — more than $5 billion in the 2008 elections alone, according to CRP’s analysis. Now the spigot has been opened even further for corporations, trade groups and unions to use as much money as their hefty bank accounts can muster to aid or attack a federal candidate. Such action could potentially come in the eleventh hour of a campaign when the target may not be capable of an effective response, for want of time, funds or both.

Of course, just because the path is clear for them to spend this money doesn’t necessarily mean they will. But if their willingness to contribute unlimited “soft money” before its prohibition in 2002 is any indication, they have both the wherewithal and the readiness to use their financial largess to wield control over politics and elections. And whether hard money or soft, overall, most campaign cash represents corporate interests.

All sides in this debate will undoubtedly buckle down to take advantage of this rarified moment in history — making plans to utilize this new vehicle in their campaign strategies, or holding up the specter of wealthy goliaths flipping elections by the sheer weight of their treasure. Public financing advocates present the new world order in election law as a wholly untenable outcome, one that points to public financing as the only logical guarantee of fair elections.

Here at the Center for Responsive Politics, we are not political strategists or campaign finance reform activists. We are neither planning to use the new loophole nor find ways around it — but we will follow it. Closely.

It’s times like these when OpenSecrets.org and CRP’s nonpartisan, straight-shooting data and analysis matters most.

More than ever, the public will need reliable research to reveal who’s funding politics, what interests they represent, how much they’re spending and who’s receiving it. Only then can constituents see whether they are pitted against interests contrary to their own, and who — and how much — those interests represent.

This information empowers citizens take action, through political engagement and at the ballot box, to hold our government accountable. Citizens need reliable information to participate effectively in a democracy, and democracy needs that citizen engagement to function as it should. It’s a delicate balancing act, with the free flow of information to the public at its core.

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