The Corporate Money Rolls In

SuperPACs in a democracy—what could go wrong?


In January 2010, then-Observer editor Bob Moser wrote that the “Supreme Court’s appalling and unconscionable 5-4 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission means, essentially, one thing: Corporations will not just dominate, but rule, American politics for the foreseeable future.” Five justices had deemed that corporations have free speech rights, just as individuals do, and thrown out the federal ban on campaign ads funded by corporations.

Were Moser’s words brash, written in the heat of the moment? We think not. Well into the presidential campaign season, we can see the decision’s poisonous fruits.

Stalking the presidential campaign are so-called Super PACs, a new type of political action committee that can raise unlimited money directly from corporations, unions and individuals. Though Super PACs can’t coordinate with campaigns, they can spend freely attacking or supporting candidates. But don’t bother trying to follow the money; Super PACs have no obligation to disclose their donors.

Giant pools of corporate cash from secret sources sloshing around a democracy—what could go wrong?

Make Us Great Again—a ridiculously-named Super PAC backing Gov. Rick Perry’s presidential campaign—plans to spend $55 million during the primary season alone, according to internal documents obtained by MSNBC. The Perry campaign claims to have no knowledge of Make Us Great Again, which, even if true, is beside the point. The Super PAC is run by former Perry chief of staff and Austin corporate lobbyist Mike Toomey. We hate to pick on Mike, but the words “democracy” and “Mike Toomey” do not belong in the same sentence.

Perry is not the only presidential contender with a Super PAC. But he may quickly come to represent new levels of political corruption.

“If you’re saying I can be bought for $5,000, I’m offended,” Perry said to Michele Bachmann at the CNN/Tea Party debate in September. He was talking specifically about contributions he received as governor from pharmaceutical giant Merck (which Toomey lobbied for at the time). But the implication—the price of corruption keeps rising—is well taken. More anonymous money keeps pouring into our political process. It’s a wonder citizens have any voice at all.

We do have a powerful weapon at our disposal: shame. We need to shame politicians, certain Supreme Court justices and corporate America into coming to their senses. Citizens United was a misguided decision that must be overturned.