February 25, 2017

2010 Stands Tall for Special Interests

Perhaps the most influential political moment of 2010, as well as one of the most overlooked moments, came at the beginning of the year, but it is still far from over. Last January, the Supreme Court unleashed the influence of special interests in its ruling of Citizen’s United v. Federal Election Commission. This ruling effectively removed the contribution limits that special interests have been subject to for over a century.

Unsurprisingly, special interests took advantage of the legal change and were even able to spend more money in 2010 than in 2008. This is the first time in the nation’s history that special interests spent more in a midterm election than the preceding presidential election. Special interests spent a total of $282 million in 2010, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. This is almost five times greater (475%) than what special interests spent in the previous midterm election of 2006, when the total was a relatively meager $59 million. For the details of which special interests spent the most and how each group spent their money, read this article.

As this spending surge shows, the American democratic process transformed in 2010. Never before have special interests been able to spend as much as they please. Though, the Citizen’s United ruling not only removed the contribution limits for special interests, but it also removed the disclosure requirements for certain special interests, which allows them to keep their donors anonymous. Roughly 36% of all special interest expenditures were anonymous in 2010, according to statistics [.pdf] from the City of New York. This means about $102 million of influence came from unknown sources.

The fact that special interests have more influence in the democratic process than ever before is not a key issue for either party – it is a key issue for both parties. In order to protect the democratic process from undue influence, lawmakers must act to prevent another election cycle of limitless and anonymous spending. Without Congress passing a statute, you can be sure history will remember 2010 for the transforming decision of Citizen’s United.

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