By Jackie Boberg, member of Patriotic Millionaires, Washington, D.C.
Ten years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that restrictions on campaign spending violated the first amendment in the pernicious, landmark case of Citizens United. Since that decision, massive quantities of political donations and dark money have poured into our electoral system, creating the most expensive decade of American elections and diminishing the power of the average voter.
I fear that if we do not upend Citizens United and change course soon, we risk losing our democracy to a handful of monied donors.
Wealthy donors aren’t anything new to American elections, but Citizens United created new ways for wealthy individuals to influence our electoral system by prioritizing their money over the voices — and votes — of average Americans. As a wealthy voter myself, I don’t believe that my voice should count any more than someone else’s simply because of the amount of money I have.
Citizens United ushered in a new era of elections dominated by billionaires like Charles Koch, Sheldon Adelson, Donald Sussman, Tom Steyer, and Micheal Bloomberg. Billionaires have actually donated so much money that during the 2018 elections, the top 10 largest donors accounted for a whopping 97% of all donations to outside spending groups.
As long as our democracy remains a pay-to-play system, our government's priorities will remain in the pockets of donors and we will never see action on the issues that matter most to us.
Wealthy individuals and corporations have also used the ruling to fund outside spending groups like SuperPACs — independent organizations that can take unlimited funds from individuals and corporations, given they do not coordinate with campaigns — and nonprofits in order to influence public opinion and shape policy in their own favor, and often at the expense of public goods.
For instance, take the oil-magnate Koch family funded group, Americans for Prosperity. Across the nation from Little Rock, Phoenix, Michigan, Utah, and Tennessee Americans for Prosperity have worked extensively to kill public transit projects to ensure Americans have no other option but to drive cars and buy more gasoline, thus benefiting the Koch family.
While not every outside spending group works to increase the bottom line of their donors, allowing wealthy individuals a direct path to influence politicians threatens the foundation of our democracy.
As big money has increasingly saturated all levels of our electoral process, it’s natural that Americans are now questioning if their representatives are working on behalf of their constituents or just their donors. It should come as no surprise that the number of voters who believe the government represents their interests is at an all-time low.
An October poll by Georgetown University found that Americans’ trust in Congress and their government is at a low of just 18%, while 90% say they’re tired of politicians working with special interests rather than standing up to them. There also remains a dangerous growing gap between what the public expects from their representatives and what they actually receive while they’re in office. It will continue to exist unless we fix this system of institutionalized corruption.
I want to live in a democracy where one vote is enough to make a difference, instead of being dependent on the amount of dollars in your pocket. The past decade of Citizens United has only resulted in eroding the democratic values that make our country truly great.
The voices of the voters who want a robust health care system, reasonable gun control laws, public transportation and infrastructure worthy of a 21st century economy, are being drowned out by the power of Super PACS and special interests. It’s time that we repeal Citizens United and end this failed experiment with our democracy and return our priorities to the voters, not donors.
Boberg is a retired tech sales and marketing professional. She is a member of the Patriotic Millionaires, a coalition of high-net worth Americans concerned about the destabilizing concentration of wealth and power in the U.S.