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Citizens United Transformed State and Local Elections, Often Even More Than National, Report Finds

Wednesday, October 15, 2014 By Chisun Lee, Brent Ferguson and David Earley, Brennan Center for Justice | Press Release
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2014.10.14.Money.MainOutside spenders now have more power to influence elections than at any other period since Watergate. (Image via Shutterstock)New York - Big outside spenders are working “hand-in-glove” with state and local candidates for office, often with few restrictions, according to a new Brennan Center report.

Unlike billionaires such as the Koch Brothers and Tom Steyer, who spend hundreds of millions on national races, wealthy donors can buy tremendous influence over state and local elections for just tens of thousands. And they have turned their sights to governorships, mayoralties – even local school boards.

After Citizens United: The Story in the States is the first report to assess in comprehensive detail the transformative effect the 2010 Supreme Court ruling had on state and local elections across the country. The verdict? Outside spenders now have more power to influence elections than at any other period since Watergate. This is partly because weak regulation of coordination between candidates and the type of “independent” spending groups Citizens United unleashed has allowed those independent groups to act as de-facto arms of their campaigns.  

Some of the states that the report concludes have the weakest regulation of coordination, like Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, face competitive gubernatorial and legislative elections this year.

“At the local level, you don’t need to be a Koch brother to be a kingmaker,” writes report author Chisun Lee.

Among the key takeaways:

  • Local offices – governorships, mayoralties and local school boards can be bought with a much smaller investment. It is possible for a single funder to dominate the discourse and machinery of politics in a way not seen at the federal level.
     
  • What is going on around the country four years after Citizens United is proof that the Court’s entire conception of money in politics is flawed. Far from acting independently, unlimited outside spenders are working “hand in glove” with candidates, using new methods that slip past outdated laws.
     
  • These include: Candidate-specific groups, like one formed by a former communications director for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, which is raising money to support his bid for re-election, including nearly $1 million on one day in June. Candidates soliciting sums for outside groups supporting them, such as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker soliciting donations for a nonprofit group that then advertised to support him. Candidates collaborating with outside groups on messaging, or even using the same consultants, as with Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who has appeared in multiple television ads paid for by an independent group called “Let’s Get to Work,” whose name is also a Scott campaign slogan.
     
  • Until there is a new Court and a new jurisprudence, limiting the overriding influence of big money will require preserving the campaign finance system that remains, and supporting reforms, like contribution limits, public financing and disclosure, that are still permitted by the Court. Ultimately, a comprehensive solution to curtail candidate-specific super-PACs and ban “McConnelling” (explained here by Jon Stewart), like the Price-Van Hollen bill, will be required for such reforms to succeed. States and cities can start adopting those solutions now, and some already are.

“In Citizens United, the Court said that the unlimited spending it was unleashing would be independent. Now we know that’s not true.” said Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice. “The facts undermine the assumptions on which the Court based rulings like Citizens United. This poses a major problem for average voters looking to have their voices heard.”

“Our research shows that Citizens United’s corrosive effect on state and local elections is many cases even worse than on federal elections,” said report author Chisun Lee. “But as states and cities face new challenges in stemming the overwhelming influence of big money, there is also opportunity at the state and local level for new approaches to restore power to average voters that are not possible in a gridlocked Congress.”

For more information or to interview one of the report’s authors, contact Naren Daniel at (646)292-8381 or [email protected].

Click here to read the full report, After Citizens United: The Story in the States.

Click here for more information about the Brennan Center’s work on money in politics.

After Citizens United: The Story in the States

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

Chisun Lee, Brent Ferguson and David Earley

Chisun Lee serves as counsel on the money in politics team in the Brennan Center's Democracy Program. Before returning in 2013 to the Brennan Center, where she previously served as counsel, she practiced federal criminal law in New York City, representing indigent and private clients. She also served as a staff reporter for ProPublica.

Brent Ferguson serves as counsel on the money in politics team in the Brennan Center's Democracy Program. He joined the Brennan Center in 2013 after working as a law clerk to Judge Michael Chagares of the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and Senior Judge Jeffrey Miller of the US District Court for the Southern District of California.

David Earley serves as counsel on the money in politics team in the Brennan Center's Democracy program. He works on election law cases in courts across the country, including the US Supreme Court. He joined the Brennan Center in 2010. He graduated cum laude from NYU School of Law.

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Citizens United Transformed State and Local Elections, Often Even More Than National, Report Finds

Wednesday, October 15, 2014 By Chisun Lee, Brent Ferguson and David Earley, Brennan Center for Justice | Press Release
  • font size decrease font size decrease font size increase font size increase font size
  • Print

2014.10.14.Money.MainOutside spenders now have more power to influence elections than at any other period since Watergate. (Image via Shutterstock)New York - Big outside spenders are working “hand-in-glove” with state and local candidates for office, often with few restrictions, according to a new Brennan Center report.

Unlike billionaires such as the Koch Brothers and Tom Steyer, who spend hundreds of millions on national races, wealthy donors can buy tremendous influence over state and local elections for just tens of thousands. And they have turned their sights to governorships, mayoralties – even local school boards.

After Citizens United: The Story in the States is the first report to assess in comprehensive detail the transformative effect the 2010 Supreme Court ruling had on state and local elections across the country. The verdict? Outside spenders now have more power to influence elections than at any other period since Watergate. This is partly because weak regulation of coordination between candidates and the type of “independent” spending groups Citizens United unleashed has allowed those independent groups to act as de-facto arms of their campaigns.  

Some of the states that the report concludes have the weakest regulation of coordination, like Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, face competitive gubernatorial and legislative elections this year.

“At the local level, you don’t need to be a Koch brother to be a kingmaker,” writes report author Chisun Lee.

Among the key takeaways:

  • Local offices – governorships, mayoralties and local school boards can be bought with a much smaller investment. It is possible for a single funder to dominate the discourse and machinery of politics in a way not seen at the federal level.
     
  • What is going on around the country four years after Citizens United is proof that the Court’s entire conception of money in politics is flawed. Far from acting independently, unlimited outside spenders are working “hand in glove” with candidates, using new methods that slip past outdated laws.
     
  • These include: Candidate-specific groups, like one formed by a former communications director for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, which is raising money to support his bid for re-election, including nearly $1 million on one day in June. Candidates soliciting sums for outside groups supporting them, such as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker soliciting donations for a nonprofit group that then advertised to support him. Candidates collaborating with outside groups on messaging, or even using the same consultants, as with Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who has appeared in multiple television ads paid for by an independent group called “Let’s Get to Work,” whose name is also a Scott campaign slogan.
     
  • Until there is a new Court and a new jurisprudence, limiting the overriding influence of big money will require preserving the campaign finance system that remains, and supporting reforms, like contribution limits, public financing and disclosure, that are still permitted by the Court. Ultimately, a comprehensive solution to curtail candidate-specific super-PACs and ban “McConnelling” (explained here by Jon Stewart), like the Price-Van Hollen bill, will be required for such reforms to succeed. States and cities can start adopting those solutions now, and some already are.

“In Citizens United, the Court said that the unlimited spending it was unleashing would be independent. Now we know that’s not true.” said Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice. “The facts undermine the assumptions on which the Court based rulings like Citizens United. This poses a major problem for average voters looking to have their voices heard.”

“Our research shows that Citizens United’s corrosive effect on state and local elections is many cases even worse than on federal elections,” said report author Chisun Lee. “But as states and cities face new challenges in stemming the overwhelming influence of big money, there is also opportunity at the state and local level for new approaches to restore power to average voters that are not possible in a gridlocked Congress.”

For more information or to interview one of the report’s authors, contact Naren Daniel at (646)292-8381 or [email protected].

Click here to read the full report, After Citizens United: The Story in the States.

Click here for more information about the Brennan Center’s work on money in politics.

After Citizens United: The Story in the States

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

Chisun Lee, Brent Ferguson and David Earley

Chisun Lee serves as counsel on the money in politics team in the Brennan Center's Democracy Program. Before returning in 2013 to the Brennan Center, where she previously served as counsel, she practiced federal criminal law in New York City, representing indigent and private clients. She also served as a staff reporter for ProPublica.

Brent Ferguson serves as counsel on the money in politics team in the Brennan Center's Democracy Program. He joined the Brennan Center in 2013 after working as a law clerk to Judge Michael Chagares of the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and Senior Judge Jeffrey Miller of the US District Court for the Southern District of California.

David Earley serves as counsel on the money in politics team in the Brennan Center's Democracy program. He works on election law cases in courts across the country, including the US Supreme Court. He joined the Brennan Center in 2010. He graduated cum laude from NYU School of Law.