Nearly 40 years ago, the Supreme Court reached the rather obvious conclusion that unlimited campaign donations are an invitation to corruption — if just one wealthy individual can fund a politician’s entire campaign, then that politician will likely do that donor’s bidding for their entire term in office. Thus, contribution limits were constitutional, because the Constitution allows lawmakers to protect society’s compelling interest in fighting corruption in politics.
As Rick Hasen explains, however, the Supreme Court took leave of its senses in Citizens United, deciding in that case that “independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” Because of this decision, corporations now have free reign to spend as much money as they wanted to influence elections. How could spending millions of dollars to put a particular lawmaker in office possibly cause that lawmaker to feel beholden to their new corporate benefactor?
Now, Tea Party Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) wants to take this even further. In essence, Lee just sought permission to set up his own slush fund, powered by unlimited corporate donors, and use this slush fund to buy influence with his fellow lawmakers by running ads in their districts:
Leadership PACs are political committees that sitting members of Congress (and others) set up to allow them to make contributions to other candidates and spend money to support their election. It is a way for a member of Congress to build influence.
Sen. Mike Lee’s Leadership PAC, the Constitutional Conservatives Fund PAC, has just asked the Federal Election Commission for permission to collect unlimited contributions from corporations, labor unions, and wealthy individuals for independent spending to elect other candidates. The SuperPAC’s lawyers argue that there’s no danger of corrupting these other candidates, because its spending to help them get elected will be independent of those candidates.
So Lee’s idea is that corporate CEOs, Wall Street tycoons and other well-moneyed interests can show up at his office and turn over completely unlimited amounts of funds. Lee can then buy new friends in Washington and in state governments by channeling these corporate funds to an army of grateful politicians. And the more money corporate America gives him, the more powerful Lee becomes — and the more he owes this new found power to his brand new corporate sugar daddies.
But, of course, nothing about this reeks of corruption. The Roberts Court tells us so.