"MR. COLBERT, YOU MAY FORM YOUR PAC"  Comedian Stephen Colbert, attorney (and former FEC Chairman) Trevor Potter, and some red-haired dude who’s probably really important but whose name I can’t be bothered to look up listen intently as members of the Federal Election Commission deliberate Colbert’s application to form a Super PAC, or political action committee.  The type of PAC sought by Colbert allows him to raise unlimited campaign funds from individuals and corporations.  The FEC, which apparently has a sense of humor but probably no sense of parody or irony, approved the PAC, 5-1.  (Photo: Yuri Gupas / Reuters via The Atlantic)

SWIPE DREAMS   Comedian Stephen Colbert scanned a credit card for a donation, Thursday, after a Federal Election Commission hearing where he asked to create a political action committee in Washington, D.C. The FEC gave Colbert conditional approval to create a PAC for the 2012 elections. (Photo: Mark Wilson / Getty Images via the Wall St. Journal)

Right Wing Supreme Court Shreds All Lessons In Campaign Finance

As a nation we live and learn. Elections need protection from influence.

We set legal limits on campaign donations in 1924.

We enacted the Federal Election Campaign Act [FECA] in 1972.

We set up the FEC [Federal Election Commission] in 1974.

We approved the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) of 2002, also known as “McCain-Feingold”. It prohibited unregulated contributions (commonly referred to as “soft money”) to national political parties.

Then Obama got elected in 2008. His campaign sent a shock-wave though the right wing. They could no longer compete with Democrats in elections.

So in 2010 with Citizens United and again today, the right wing Supreme Court said “fuck all that reality and prudent judgment, let’s invent some made up world where unlimited ‘soft’ money makes sense and let’s throw all the previous laws out and create new laws from the bench as activist judges.” 

We now live in a campaign world created by five conservative votes on the Supreme Court. No Congress. No President. No voters.

Coming soon to OpenSecrets.org: we’re adding information we’ve gathered on more than $70 million in new grants to politically active nonprofits and their affiliates. All of this information is linked up to FEC data for the exact periods covered by the IRS data.

What makes these updates so special?

Well, for one, we entered these 14,000+ records ourselves.
Also, this is the first time IRS data for dark money groups has been so closely matched to FEC spending by date.

This is a pretty big deal for anyone who cares about secret spending in U.S. elections and beyond.

Explore our Outside Spending section, learn more about how these “social welfare” groups operate so secretively, and get ready for this groundbreaking dark money data. 

Conservatives on the Roberts Court are judicial activists who have been thoroughly bought and paid for by big money on the far right. Consider just a handfull of recent cases before SCOTUS:

1) Monsanto — a case ruled in favor of the multinational conglomerate despite the fact that a sitting Justice, Clarence Thomas, had a severe conflict of interest as he was once employed by Monsanto as their lawyer

2) Voting Rights Act — a case brought before the court by a career conservative, professional litigant and lifelong anti-voting rights activist, Edward Blum (worth noting: John Roberts himself is a lifelong anti-voting rights activist)

3) Citizens United — a case brought before the court by a career conservative activist and lifelong professional litigant James Bopp (worth noting that the RNC, NRA and Amway billionaire, Betsy DeVos were all major funders for Mr. Bopp)

4) Citizens United part two: McCutcheon v. FEC — a case brought before the court by a career conservative activist and longtime millionaire Republican political mega-doner, Shaun McCutcheon

5) Chamber of Commerce president Tom Donohue has a 70% win rate with all cases the Chamber has brought before SCOTUS

[related: conservative justice’s conflicts of interest]

Money, Transparency and Policy Since Citizens United v. FEC

The Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission U.S. Supreme Court ruling changed modern politics. It made an unmistakeable effect on the ability for secretive and unaccountable groups and organizations to push their interests, as well as opened the floodgates for unlimited spending and helped spur the creation of super PACs. Check out below the milestones of the money and politics landscape since the Court’s ruling in January 2010.

The timeline covers four categories: Courts (major court rulings and cases), Disclose (legislation around greater disclosure of political contributions and spending), Super PACs (trend and news for independent expenditure only committees) and FEC (decisions made by the Federal Election Commission).

In other words: Political money and hence influence at the top levels is disproportionately white, male, and with almost no social context that includes significant numbers of African Americans and other people of color.

This is why money isn’t speech. Freedom of speech as a functional element in democratic life assumes that such freedom can be meaningfully deployed. But the unleashing of yet more money into politics allows a very limited class of people to drown out the money “speech” of everyone else—but especially those with a deep, overwhelmingly well documented history of being denied voice and presence in American political life.