Here are 10 reasons why the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision is not nearly as big of a deal as you might believe:
1) Big Spenders Can Still Spend Big
There are many individuals who claim that the Citizens United decision has opened the door for millionaires to buy elections, but the fact remains that millionaires donated exorbitant sums to PACs before SCOTUS handed down this controversial ruling. The decision simply upheld the ability of corporations and unions to spend money on electioneering activities (within prescribed time limits), while still refusing them the ability to donate directly to candidate campaigns. The case did not, then, suddenly grant millionaires the power to write massive checks to support the issues of their choice and say which candidate agreed with them on this issue — they already had that. Instead, it afforded corporations and other organizations the same ability.
2) Both Sides Have Millionaires
Many liberals out there claim that the wealthy Republicans are out to buy the 2012 election, with the Citizens United decision acting as their sole enabler. ut, what they fail to recognize is that there are plenty of wealthy Democrats in their midst who are just as free to spend their money trying to keep President Obama in the White House. This decision hasn’t altered that particular status quo.
3) People Can Still Choose to Listen or Mute Their TVs
There’s a lot of chatter about how the ads paid for by Super PACs will undoubtedly brainwash the “average American” and ultimately convince every voter in America to turn out in favor of a certain candidate. This is simply nonsense. American voters will ultimately decide who they want in the White House regardless of how many annoying ads they have to put up with before November. In fact, a lot Americans mute the television when campaign ads come on, preferring to ignore the stupidity altogether. A few television and radio ads are not going to win or lose this election.
4) Voters Are Malleable — Money Doesn’t Change That
With it being said that Americans are free to cover their ears, let it be said that we all know voters are malleable and able to be influenced — that’s why television ads are a big deal in the first place. However, ads will not single-handedly win the election. Voters are able to be convinced by a variety of factors — Presidential debates, political commentators, grassroots efforts, and their own beliefs and values. We know that people can be convinced to change their minds (though probably not as easily as those outraged by Citizens United seem to think), but we also know that television ads are not the only factors which contribute to voter decisions — let’s give the American people a little bit of credit, please.
5) Citizens United Doesn’t Mandate Increased Spending
In deciding that corporations and unions are able to spend their money on electioneering activities, SCOTUS definitely did not mandate an increase in spending. Meaning, of course, that people are free to decide not to spend their money on electioneering activities. Will they choose to do so? Maybe. But, that would have to depend on how much they want something to change, which, I’ll point out, has always been the barometer. If people care about an issue or an election, then they spend more time and more money on it — shocking, I know. A SCOTUS decision does very little to change that, if it does anything at all. Weren’t millions being spent on campaigns before the Citizens United decision?
6) People Give More Money When They’re Trying to Upset the Status Quo
During the 2004 election, the Democrats were accused of being the moneyed party — throwing their wealth around and trying to buy the election. Now, it’s the Democrats who are doing the complaining — the only thing that’s really changed is the letter next to the incumbent’s name. If you’re trying to get rid of something you dislike immensely, it stands to reason that you’d devote a lot of time and, yes, money, to that cause. So, maybe it seems as though the Republicans are spending an “unfair” amount (whatever that means). I’m sure the Democrats will do the same somewhere else down the road when they’re trying to get rid of someone else (like maybe in a few Senate and House campaigns this November?).
7) Percentage of Spending is the Same Since Before the Citizens Decision
According to this article in the New York Times, a study conducted by Richard L. Hasen shows that the percentage of increase in Super PAC spending since the passage of McCain-Feingold is consistent with pre-Feingold levels. For example, “The level of outside money increased 164 percent from 2004 to 2008. Then it rose 135 percent from 2008 to 2012. In other words, while the sheer amount of dollars seems considerably more ominous after Citizens United, the percentage of change from one presidential election to the next has remained pretty consistent since the passage of McCain-Feingold.”
8) How Much Money You Have Doesn’t Matter as Much as How You Spend It
Voters hate negative ads. You can invest money poorly. Your ads can be awful and poorly done. Having more money doesn’t guarantee good results. It might give you more tries, or the ability to hire more consultants, but less money spent really well is still going to be better than a lot of money spent poorly. President Obama runs effective campaigns because he has a lot of money, and he knows how to use it. The Republicans may have the money, but they certainly haven’t figured out how to use it yet.
9) The United States is Not a Plutocracy
It seems like the most common response to the Citizens decision is a the-sky-is-falling yell about how this means that the United States is governed by the wealthy. This just isn’t the case. Individual citizens still elect their representatives, and the Electoral College isn’t composed of the top 538 wealthiest individuals in America. So, while wealth can influence voters, it cannot buy elections, and it is not the means whereby our nation is governed.
10) It Hasn’t Changed Much of Anything
Millionaires still spend millions of dollars. Voters are still influenced, either for good or ill, and we still have to put up with annoying election ads during election season. So, really, business in the political world has continued as usual — regardless of the dreaded Citizens United decision.