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'Citizens United' Unleashed a Monster: Why the Real Winner In the Iowa Caucuses Is the Big-Money Super PAC

They can spend unlimited amounts of money. They don't disclose donors until after the votes are counted. They deluged Iowa with millions of dollars of harsh negative ads.

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The bottom line is that in Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court majority believed there should be no restraints on what has been called the “marketplace of political ideas.” In short, more political speech, political advertising and messaging—no matter the source or sponsor—should be permitted. The Court also took the view that modern corporations play a valuable role in American life and thus deserve constitutional free speech rights.

In many respects, the super PACs are a perfect representation of “the face of American capitalism,” Kendall Thomas of Columbia Law School told a panel convened by the Brennan Center for Justice shortly after the Citizens United ruling in January 2010. The decision would unleash outsized and unaccountable players into the American political arena, he predicted, just as globalization has ushered large corporate players into the international economic order. “We need to contest the vision of politics, and the vision of politics embraced in Citizens United, which views citizenship and constitutional democracy as part of the world of commodities,” he concluded.

And so in the very states that vie for national attention in the start of the nominating process—Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, Nevada—voters are likely to find themselves overwhelmed by negative messaging from the latest big-money political behemoth. Few people watching the super PAC ads in Iowa would suggest they are legitimate proxies for ordinary citizens in a struggling economy. If anything, this messaging may be a factor behind the 41 percent of Republicans in the state that pollsters said were undecided just before the Caucuses. 

Indeed, the losers in the Iowa Caucuses are not just the Republicans with the fewest supporters. They are that state’s voters—and voters in the primary and caucus states to follow—who will experience a political process increasingly distant from their lives.  

Steven Rosenfeld covers democracy issues for AlterNet and is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).

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