By Obed Manuel
Opinion & Copy Editor
With a 5-to-4 vote regarding Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court sent a clear message to the American people: money equals speech.
The January 2010 decision did not lead to the discovery that money buys influence in politics – it reinforced and strengthened the mechanism.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority’s decision that “Congress may not prohibit political speech, even if the speaker is a corporation or union.” This was in reference to the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Reform Act, a law signed in 2002, which eliminated “soft” money and placed limits on campaign contributions.
In writing this, Roberts’ language established the idea of corporate personhood. Essentially, this means that corporations and unions are just like people, who can breathe, eat, sleep and have freedom of speech. And speech, of course, cannot be limited.
Monetary political contributions cannot be limited because money equals speech. However, those contributions would not be made to the traditional political action committees, which have limits on contributions.
Instead, as The New York Times reported days after the decision, “super” Political Action Committees were created. Unlimited contributions can be made through super PACs. The influence of super PACs was felt during the 2010 midterm elections, 10 months after the court’s decision.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, conservative super PACs outspent liberal groups through television, radio and Internet ads by a 2-to-1 ratio.
It is not safe to assume the defining factor for that election cycle was the influence of super PACs, but Republican John Boehner became the speaker of the house the following January after enough Republicans were voted into office.
For the 2012 election, the presidency will be up for grabs, and super PACs will certainly be ready to maximize their influence.
For the first time since their implementation in the world of American politics, active super PACs released their contributor lists Jan. 31 as required by the Federal Election Commission. The filings showed Mitt Romney, a super-PAC supporter, raised $30.2 million through Dec. 31.
The amount raised is startling considering it all came from 265 donors. That’s an average of almost $114,000 per donor. Of course, votes cannot be purchased, even at six-digit figures, but influence sure can be.
Super PACs are a threat to the political process and to the very core of democracy.
These entities were created to enhance political speech, but the irony of the circumstances is that the influence these groups possess will drown out the voice of the average voter or campaign volunteer.
A television ad that runs during prime time will reach more eligible voters than volunteers who go door to door when they have the time to do so.
It is an uphill battle for those seeking to obtain the purity of politics – the exchanging of ideas, open debates and simply finding the more qualified candidate – if such a thing even exists.