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Citizens United Turns Two: Democracy Is Not A Game

Liz Kennedy

Citizens United, the misbegotten Supreme Court case granting corporations the right to spend unlimited money to influence elections, has entered its terrible twos.

Already, we've seen the first results of this Wild West approach to money in politics and it's not pretty. Everyone is using the biggest gun they can buy now that the Supreme Court shot the sheriff. And, as many of the guns are unregistered, anonymous character assassination abounds. The scandal of money in politics today is not what little remains illegal, but what is done legally.

Citizens United relies on two mistakes regarding the relationship between money in politics and corruption of democratic government.

First, Citizens United announced the fiction that a candidate can be corrupted if a corporation gives him money for his election, but there is no risk of corruption if a corporation spends that same money to support the candidate's election. So if Massey Energy gives $10,000 to a candidate to spend on his campaign, the candidate might feel improperly in their debt and pay that debt back through corrupt political favors. But if Massey Energy spends one million dollars on political ads to support his election, five members of the Supreme Court said that the elected beneficiary of that spending wouldn't be improperly indebted to his corporate benefactor.

Second, Citizens United says that our democratic government is not corrupted when those who can afford to spend huge sums of money on behalf of candidates have influence over or access to elected officials, and that the appearance of influence and access will not cause Americans to lose faith in their democracy.

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