Two years ago today, the Supreme Court struck down longstanding restrictions on corporate money in American elections, paving the way for super PACs and major third party spending.
Since January 21, 2009, the Citizens United case has had a major effect on money in politics. Already in this year’s Republican presidential primary, we’ve seen a number of freespending super PACs play a major role in the race, including the pro-Mitt Romney Restore Our Future PAC, financed in large part by hedge fund billionaire John Paulson, and the pro-Newt Gingrich Winning Our Future, for whom casino mogul Sheldon Adelson recently cut a $5 million check. In fact, the total amount of money spent by outside groups thus far has outpaced spending by the campaigns themselves.
Despite the proliferation of super PACs and massive uptick in outside spending, former Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty still sees our campaign finance laws as too restrictive.
ThinkProgress spoke with Pawlenty following Thursday night’s debate in Charleston, South Carolina. In a turn of phrase that would give George Orwell satisfaction, the former Minnesota governor defended the Citizens United decision as “leveling the playing field.” Pawlenty also said he supported allowing people to make unlimited donations directly to candidates — individuals are currently permitted to give no more than $2500 — rather than having to do so indirectly through third party groups:
KEYES: Saturday is the two-year anniversary of the Citizens United decision. Do you think that’s going to help defeat President Obama in the fall?
PAWLENTY: What it’s going to help is free speech. The history of campaign finance reform is difficult and checkered for this reason. Every time they try to contain speech, it pops up somewhere else. This is just me talking personally, I’m not speaking for Mitt’s position on this. The better position is to allow full and free speech in whatever form, but have instant disclosure.
KEYES: You’re talking completely unlimited donations?
PAWLENTY: We have that now, it’s just a question of where the money gets pushed to the third party groups. This leveling the playing field to some extent because in the past, unions in particular and other interest groups had an advantage in the old system. Now the playing field’s being leveled a little bit.
KEYES: Just to clarify, you’re talking about allowing, for instance, a millionaire to be able to give a million dollars directly to Mitt Romney’s campaign?
PAWLENTY: Right now, with super PACs and third party groups, there’s essentially unlimited giving to various aligned super PACs and groups. The point is, the United States Supreme Court has spoken. They have said we’re going to have free speech as it relates to political contributions. The First Amendment should be respected and protected, but I think we should also have full disclosure.
Helped in part by the Citizens United ruling, the right-wing Koch Brothers have pledged to spend at least $200 million to defeat President Obama in November. Other outside spending groups will undoubtedly follow suit, just as they did in a major way during the 2010 election:
This massive influx of unregulated campaign spending will almost certainly be the new normal as wealthy individuals and corporations find new ways to influence elections, helped in large part by the now-two year old Citizens United decision.