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How Citizens United Empowers the Fringe

David Callahan

The most common critique of Citizens United is that it allows corporations to wield ever greater influence in our democracy -- on top of the considerable power business already had before the Supreme Court decision in 2010. More recently, during the Republican primary, critics of Citizens United have spotlighted how the ruling gives outsized influence to wealthy individuals -- allowing a handful of billionaires like Sheldon Adelson to decide which candidates live or die on the campaign trail.

Now, after a rare interview that Harold Simmons gave to the Wall Street Journal, we can add a third indictment to the case against Citizens United: It empowers the far fringe, people whose views are way outside the mainstream but who happen to have a boatload of money. Simmons runs a chemicals and metals conglomerate and is worth $10 billion. He has pumped more than $18 million into the Republican race so far, making him the single largest donor in the 2012 cycle.

To put that figure in perspective, that is more money than residents of all the midwestern states combined, with 66 milion Americans, have contributed to presidential candidates of both parties in traditional campaign donations during this election cycle.

If one person has such tremendous clout over our democratic process, you better pray that he or she is a responsible individual. In the case of Harold Simmons, though, your prayers would go unanswered.

Simmons will be remembered as one of the top two backers of the Swift Boats ads against John Kerry in 2004, which was easily the most brazenly unfair smear in modern American politics. Back in 2004, Simmons was worth $2 billion -- a fifth of his current fortune.

Simmons tried to reprise his Swift Boat success in 2008 with another audacious smear, financing attack ads that linked Barack Obama to the former Weatherman William Ayers -- charges that the Obama campaign rightly dubbed "demonstrably false."

Simmons is now richer than ever and clearly determined to spend more money than ever. As the Wall Street Journal reported:

"Any of these Republicans would make a better president than that socialist, Obama," said Mr. Simmons during two days of rare interviews at his Dallas home and office. "Obama is the most dangerous American alive…because he would eliminate free enterprise in this country."

"I've got the money, so I'm spending it for the good of the country," said Mr. Simmons.

Welcome to the new world created by Citizens United.