The Stanford Law Review Online published an article by Russ surveying the damage that Citizens United and the Roberts Court have dealt to our democracy.
After more than a century of slow marching toward independence from corporations and wealthy individuals who work to buy democracy wholesale, our country was close to having fair elections, with candidates truly accountable to the people who sent them to office.
But then came Citizens United. This disastrous decision overturned over one hundred years of settled law. And now, big-money groups, fueled by cash from corporations and a handful of eccentric billionaires, are flooding our democracy with a tsunami of negative television ads.
Russ underlined a major source of the current situation in his piece:
Despite giving strenuous assurances during his confirmation hearing to respect settled law, [Chief Justice John] Roberts now stands responsible for the most egregious upending of judicial precedent in a generation. As now-retired Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in his dissent to the majority in Citizens United: “[F]ive Justices were unhappy with the limited nature of the case before us, so they changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law.”
So while the most significant portion of McCain-Feingold remains law, Citizens United created a framework for corruption parallel to “soft money.”
Citizens United ushered in a return to the corrupt money practices that defined much of the 1990s and beyond -- but now it’s even worse, a new Gilded Age on steroids.
The real shame is, before the Supreme Court handed down its lawless decision, we were on the road to fair elections, and the citizenry was engaged in true grassroots democracy.
Here’s how Russ put it:
It was not always this way; it was not even this way recently. For three election cycles, in 2004, 2006, and 2008, our system of campaign financing began to take shape in a way that channeled citizen participation and provided incentive for candidates to turn to the democratic support of online activists and small-dollar contributors.
This turn toward online organizing began with the presidential campaign of Howard Dean during the 2004 election, and came to fruition with then-candidate Obama’s use of online fundraising and organizing during the primary and general election of the 2008 cycle. The change resulted from two coinciding factors: the changed regulatory environment following the passage of the BCRA [Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act], and the technological advances the Internet afforded campaigns and party committees.
The effect of the change in law was immediate. For example, the national Democratic Party raised an unprecedented amount of money from small-dollar donors in 2004, the first election since the BCRA entered into effect. But the true innovation didn’t occur until 2008, when then-Senator Obama’s campaign invested the time and resources to fully embrace the ability of technology to organize supporters online. Not only did the campaign raise a historic amount in small-dollar contributions, they created a new platform for supporter engagement—an in-house social network called my.barackobama.com
Now, the biggest challenge yet to Citizens United sits before the Supreme Court. Montana’s highest court upheld that state’s 1912 ban on corporate contributions in elections. The federal justices have an opportunity to correct a system to which they dealt a serious blow in 2010. That’s why Progressives United has signed on to an amicus brief in the Montana case, laying out the reasoning for overturning Citizens United.
The real democratic accountability Russ wrote about in the Stanford Law Review is also why he founded Progressives United -- to channel progressive, grassroots energy into online organizing. We can fight the big-money interests that will stop at nothing to buy our elections. We can take our democracy back -- but we can only do it together, united.