Corporate Money Didn't Take Over Politics Post-Citizens United, New Study Shows

December 12th, 2012 2:44 PM

Remember the hand-wringing from the Left about how the Citizens United Supreme Court decision was supposed to turn America into a corporate dystopia.  The media obligingly amplified those complaints. Well, the December 12 USA Today published an analysis showing minimal corporate participation in this year’s election cycle.  In fact, their contributions amounted to roughly 10% of the mega donations doled out in 2012. 

Granted, there was a lot of money spent on this cycle.  $518 million dollars came from just 150 people, businesses, organizations, or unions, however:

despite dire warnings from watchdog groups that the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision would unleash a wave of corporate money in elections…relatively few corporations donated to super PACs. A USA TODAY tally shows 22 for-profit and non-profit corporate entities hit the $1 million-donation mark. Together, they donated $49.6 million, or roughly 10% of the mega donations tracked by USA TODAY. 

So, uh, who's going to tell Rachel Maddow? NewsBusters contributor Jack Coleman noted in June of 2012 that the MSNBC anchor described the decision turned over political speech "wholesale" to the nation's corporate elite:

The Supreme Court decision that got rid of all the campaign finance laws in this country, the decision that brought us the eccentric-billionaires-determine-our-fate elections that we have now, it is sometimes easy to forget now that what that court case was based on was a movie. It was based on this movie, "Hillary: The Movie," which is essentially a long-form, ridiculous, right-wing, talk-radio style, political ad against Hillary Clinton, very thinly disguised as a movie. Very thinly disguised as a documentary. Very, very thinly disguised. (Excerpts from documentary shown).

Yeah. (In response to criticism of Clinton in documentary). The effort to broadcast that ridiculous, right-wing political attack ad against Hillary Clinton without triggering campaign finance restrictions on political ads was the case that led to the Citizens United decision, which handed over American elections wholesale to corporations and anonymous, eccentric billionaires. 

Maddow's is meek and mild in comparison to the headlines the Daily Kos  had on its website when the decision was handed down in January of 2010:

"Help stop the corporate takeover of our democracy"

"SCOTUS gives corporations green light to buy elections"


"It's official. Corporations rule"

"Look at what greed is doing to our country"

"Welcome to the corporate fascist states of America"

"Should charges of treason be filed against 5 SCOTUS judges?"

"Welcome to the United Corporations of America"

"Goodbye democracy, hello oligarchy!"

"Welcome to political apartheid"

It wasn't just the liberal news media which obsessed over Citizens United. As Kelly McGarey wrote in back in July,  liberals in Hollywood, like Aaron Sorkin, incorporated this decision – and the related hyperbole – into scripted dramas such as HBO's The Newsroom. She noted how the protagonist on the show, Jeff Daniels's character Will McAvoy, railed against:

 [the] "Citizens United decision allowed corporations to donate unlimited amounts of money to any political candidate without anyone knowing where the money was coming from," and allowed the unions to do the same, "wouldn't the next step be to get rid of the unions?" In the span of two minutes he accuses a Supreme Court justice of bribery at the hands of two conservative donors who manipulated the system to hurt unions. 

Yes, corporations can directly spend cash on campaigns, but they rarely will choose to do so, precisely because corporations are risk-averse and seek to not offend large swaths of their market share by engaging in partisan politics. Conservatives have said that all along and now the data back up that argument.

With this new analysis, one can hope for a much more level-headed attitude towards the effect of the First Amendment-affirming ruling in Citizens United. But doing so would rob the liberal media of the comfort of furthering a convenient liberal meme, so don't expect the tired, disproven narrative to go away completely.