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Show me a supposedly “unfixable” problem in Washington, and I’ll show you the political corruption standing in its way.

When the NRA wants to block changes to our nation’s gun laws, it pours money into our elections to ensure our members of Congress vote against even the most common sense reforms. The story is the same with polluters. Insurance and drug companies. Oil companies. The list goes on.

The only answer is to get big, unaccountable money out of our elections, and put power back in the hands of the people. That starts with ending Citizens United.

Today, I’m thrilled to announce that Off the Sidelines is partnering with End Citizens United to elect strong, principled leaders who are fighting to get big money out of politics.

Together, we’ll be endorsing reform-minded candidates, holding grassroots fundraisers to ensure our candidates have the resources to win, and traveling to districts and states to campaign.

I sat down with Tiffany Mueller, president and exeutive director of End Citizens United, to talk about electing candidates committed to transparency, accountability, and getting money out of politics. You can watch our conversation here.

I hope you’ll also take a few minutes to dig into this week’s Off the Sidelines Spotlight: We break down the history of Citizens United, its disastrous impact on our democracy, and what we can all do to fight back.


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What, exactly, is Citizens United?

Citizens United vs. FEC was a 2010 Supreme Court case that opened the floodgates to unbridled outside spending in elections.

In his 5–4 majority opinion for the court, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that corporations and unions can spend unlimited sums of money on elections — overturning nearly 100 years of campaign spending restrictions. Capping corporate and union spending, Kennedy wrote, was a violation of their First Amendment right to free speech.

Prior to the Citizens United ruling, court precedent held that restrictions on corporate and union election expenditures was permissible, because the government had a vested interest in preventing corruption.

The court’s ruling, however, determined that corporate and union political spending could NOT have a corrupting influence, so long as it was not done in coordination with a candidate’s campaign.

Before we dig deeper into the implications of Citizens United, let’s take a moment to break down some of the jargon you often hear associated with the case:

  • PACs: Political Action Committees, or PACs, are organizations that raise and spend money to support or oppose political campaigns. Traditional PACs are subject to a number of FEC regulations, namely limitations on how much money they can receive from donors and what they can give to candidates.
  • Super PACs: The Citizens United ruling gave birth to Super PACs, which are an entirely different beast. Super PACs are outside groups that are allowed to accept unlimited funds from corporations, individuals or Dark Money Groups, and are allowed to spend unlimited sums of money on campaigns — as long as they don’t work directly with candidates.
  • Dark Money: Dark money is election-related spending where the source of funding is secret. Wealthy donors and corporations can contribute funds to “Dark Money Groups,” which in turn contribute to Super PACs. So even though Super PACs are required to disclose their donors, Dark Money Groups serve as a middle man, shielding the original source of donations. Because they mask the identity of donors, Dark Money Groups can provide foreign governments and other entities inroads to spend money on U.S. politics — exposing our elections to foreign interference.
  • The For the People Act (HR1): Last year, House Democrats passed a sweeping set of campaign finance and election reforms under HR1, which would expand voting rights, limit partisan gerrymandering, expand ethics rules and reduce the influence of big money in politics. Under Mitch McConnell’s leadership, the Senate will not take up this commonsense reform package for a vote.

How has Citizens United changed elections in our country?

Our political system is fundamentally corrupted, and at the core of this corruption — this deep rot — is money. In the ten years since Citizens United, unaccountable money has eroded our democracy.

According to Open Secrets:

  • Dark Money Groups that aren’t required to disclose their political donors pumped $963 million into elections over the past decade — compared to $129 million the previous decade.
  • The ten most generous political donors and their spouses injected a combined $1.2 billion into federal elections over the last decade.
  • And non-party outside groups have spent nearly $4.5 billion influencing elections since 2010.

At a time of historic wealth inequality in our country, Citizens United has given our country’s wealthiest individuals a HUGE amount of influence over our elections.

Where do the American people stand on Citizens United and election reform?

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 77 percent of registered voters said that “reducing the influence of special interests and corruption in Washington” was either the “single most” or “very important” factor in deciding their vote for Congress.

And a fall 2019 poll conducted by End Citizens United of voters in key swing districts had similar findings: 89 percent of those polled said that cracking down on political corruption was a major priority, and 73 percent listed limiting the influence of money in politics as a major priority.

So the system is broken, and Americans are very much in favor of reforming it. What do we do about it?

We must elect candidates who champion campaign finance reform, pass state ballot measures and elevate the national conversation to overturn Citizens United and restore our democracy to the people.

And that’s exactly what Off the Sidelines’ partnership with End Citizens United is all about: Activating our grassroots network to support reform-minded candidates who will prioritize this work in Congress.

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READ | If you’re looking for a comprehensive explainer on Citizens United, start with this Vox piece.

WATCH | Remember when Stephen Colbert set up a Super PAC on his Comedy Central show? Watch a highlight here, then read this NPR piece about the facts behind the parody.

READ | This Washington Post piece takes a look at the freshman House Democrats and what they’ve accomplished. So far, 34 have pledged not to take corporate PAC donations.

LISTEN | This NPR piece breaks down the dramatic expansion of corporate rights by our federal courts in just eight minutes.

READ | This report from the Center for Responsive Politics is an excellent explainer on the impact of ten years of Citizens United.

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Working to combat corruption isn’t just good politics — it’s the right thing to do to create a true representative democracy. That’s why Off the Sidelines is teaming up with End Citizens United to elect more reformers in 2020.

Help us kick off our partnership by splitting a contribution between Off the Sidelines and End Citizens United today. Your support will help provide critical funds to the amazing members of Congress and candidates working to reform our democracy.

Off The Sidelines is @SenGillibrand’s movement to help women run for office—and win.

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