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78% of Americans Want Citizens United Overturned—So Why Does the Media Never Cover It?

Once again, what we people care about and what gets covered are two totally different things.

Photo Credit: Google Images / Steve Petteway

A recent Bloomberg poll showing 78 percent of Americans in favor of overturning the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling received no coverage on national nightly news programs for ABC, CBS, NBC or PBS, nor Sunday morning political talk shows on ABC, FOX, or NBC. The court decision is once again having an enormous impact on the presidential election, with hundreds of millions of dollars expected to be raised and funneled into political super PACs through 2016.

Bloomberg Finds Overwhelming Majority Of Americans Polled Disapprove Of Citizens United Ruling

Bloomberg Poll: "78 Percent Of Those Responding Said The Citizens United Ruling Should Be Overturned." According to a September 28 article by Bloomberg Politics, a new national poll found that "78 percent of those responding said the Citizens United ruling should be overturned."

"Wow. Wow. I'm stunned," said David Strauss, a constitutional law professor who teaches at the University of Chicago. "What it suggests is that Citizens United has become a symbol for what people perceive to be a much larger problem, which is the undue influence of wealth in politics."

The 5-4 ruling said that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited sums in support of political causes. That decision, coupled with a lower court's rejection of a ceiling on contributions to political groups, opened the way for the super-PACs that are expected to pump hundreds of millions of dollars into the 2016 presidential race. [Bloomberg Politics, 9/28/15]

Bloomberg: "Unhappiness With The 2010 Decision Cuts Across Demographic And Partisan And Ideological Lines." Bloomberg Politics reporter Greg Stohr wrote that criticism of the Citizens United ruling, unlike controversial court decisions on gay marriage equality, health care, and abortion, is largely universal for all Americans, regardless of political affiliation.

Unhappiness with the 2010 decision cuts across demographic and partisan and ideological lines. Although the ruling was fashioned by the court's conservative majority, Republicans oppose Citizens United 80 percent to 18 percent, according to the poll. Democrats oppose 83 percent to 13 percent, and independents, 71 percent to 22 percent. Among self-described liberals, conservatives, and moderates, 80 percent say the decision should be overturned. [Bloomberg Politics,9/28/15]

Broadcast Network News Failed To Cover Money In Politics Poll Result

National News Programs Failed To Mention Bloomberg's Poll. According to Media Matters' analysis, the major networks' evening news programs -- ABC World News Tonight, CBS' Evening News, NBC's Nightly News and the PBS NewsHour -- aired no coverage of the Bloomberg poll between September 28 and October 2. The ABC, FOX and NBC October 4 Sunday shows also failed to report on the poll's results.

Super PACs Enabled By Citizens United Amount To "Shadow Political Parties"

The Center For Public Integrity: Super PACs "Act As Shadow Political Parties."The Center for Public Integrity's John Dunbar has written that super PACs are a tool for "billionaires, corporations and unions" to "buy advertising":

The decision did not affect contributions. It is still illegal for companies and labor unions to give money directly to candidates for federal office. The court said that because these funds were not being spent in coordination with a campaign, they "do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption."

So if the decision was about spending, why has so much been written about contributions? Like seven and eight-figure donations from people like casino magnate and billionaire Sheldon Adelson who, with his family, has given about $40 million to so-called "super PACs," formed in the wake of the decision?

For that, we need to look at another court case -- SpeechNow.org v. FEC. The lower-court case used the Citizens United case as precedent when it said that limits on contributions to groups that make independent expenditures are unconstitutional.

And that's what led to the creation of the super PACs, which act as shadow political parties. They accept unlimited donations from billionaires, corporations and unions and use it to buy advertising, most of it negative. [The Center for Public Integrity, 10/18/12]

The Center For Responsive Politics: Almost $300M Has Been Raised By Super PACs For 2016. For the 2016 election, $248,335,742 has been raised by single-candidate super PACs, according to the Center for Public Integrity, which has documented the cozy relationship between candidates and PACs.

Though super PACs are supposed to operate independently and refrain from coordinating their strategy with someone running for office, these groups are often created and run by individuals with very close ties to the candidates they support. [Center for Responsive Politics, 10/5/15]

Citizens United Has Given Wealthy Americans Outsized Influence In Elections

U.S. News & World Report: "A Tiny Number Of Extraordinarily Wealthy Individuals Are Bankrolling The Majority Of [Political] Spending." In a January 21 piece for U.S. News & World Report, Gabrielle Levy argued that the concentration of wealth in America has led to a concentration of political power.

Campaign reform advocates say the amount of money spent is not inherently a problem; rather, it's the fact that a tiny number of extraordinarily wealthy individuals are bankrolling the majority of that spending. [U.S. News & World Report, 1/21/15]

Brennan Center: Fewer Than 200 People "Have Bankrolled Nearly 60 Percent Of All Super PAC Spending Since 2010." According to New York University's Brennan Center for Justice, while the overall number of individual political donations has declined slightly since 2010, the Citizens United ruling has allowed a few wealthy families to donate "nearly 60 percent" of all the money spent by super PACs since the 2010 decision.

Perhaps most important, the singular focus on the decision's empowerment of for-profit corporations to spend in (and perhaps dominate) our elections may be misplaced. Although their influence has increased, for-profit corporations have not been the most visible beneficiaries of the Court's jurisprudence. Instead -- thanks to super PACs and a variety of other entities that can raise unlimited funds after Citizens United -- the biggest money (that can be traced) has come from an elite club of wealthy mega-donors. These individuals -- fewer than 200 people and their spouses -- have bankrolled nearly 60 percent of all super PAC spending since 2010.

And while spending by this wealthy club has exploded, we have seen neither the increased diversity of voices that the Citizens United majority imagined, nor a massive upsurge in total election spending. In fact, for the first time in decades, the total number of reported donors has begun to fall, as has the total contributed by small donors (giving $200 or less). In 2014, the top 100 donors to super PACs spent almost as much as all 4.75 million small donors combined.

In short, thanks to the Supreme Court's jurisprudence, a tiny sliver of Americans now wield more power than at any time since Watergate, while many of the rest seem to be disengaging from politics. This is perhaps the most troubling result of Citizens United: in a time of historic wealth inequality, the decision has helped reinforce the growing sense that our democracy primarily serves the interests of the wealthy few, and that democratic participation for the vast majority of citizens is of relatively little value. [Brennan Center for Justice, 1/9/15]

Methodology

This report analyzes broadcast coverage of campaign finance reform on Sunday morning talk shows (ABC's This Week, FOX's FOX News Sunday, and NBC's Meet the Press) on October 4 (CBS' Face the Nation was not aired and therefore not included) as well as the four nightly news programs (ABC's World News Tonight, CBS'Evening News, NBC's Nightly News, and the PBS NewsHour) from September 28 to October 2. The phrases "supreme," "citizens," "united," "citizens united," "campaign," "finance," "campaign finance," and "poll" were included in the search in the event that a broadcast did not refer to this case specifically.

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