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Democrats and citizens united: an unlikely embrace.

It started with a hackish documentary--Hillary: The Movie, made by a conservative advocacy group named Citizens United--and ended with a momentous decision. On January 21,2010, the Supreme Court freed corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money in American elections. So long as they didn't coordinate with candidates or the parties, corporations could throw open their treasuries and deploy campaign cash like it was going out of style. Democrats far and wide, chief among them President Barack Obama, condemned the decision. But as this retrospective shows, the president and his party have come to accept, if not embrace, what Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission has wrought in our politics.


JANUARY 21, 2010

President Obama: "The Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special-interest money in our politics."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: "With today's ruling, the voices of average Americans could be drowned out by Wall Street banks, big oil, health-insurance companies, and other special interests."

JANUARY 27, 2010

Obama in his State of the Union address: "With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests--including foreign corporations--to spend without limit in our elections."

FEBRUARY 2, 2010

Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts: "I think we need a constitutional amendment to make it clear, once and for all, that corporations do not have the same free-speech rights as individuals."

FEBRUARY 11, 2010

Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York: "The Supreme Court shattered nearly a century of U.S. law curbing the influence of corporations in our election process. With this bill, we are beginning to pick up the pieces."

FEBRUARY 20,2010

Senator Evan Bayh, Democrat of Indiana: "The threat of unlimited amounts of negative advertising from special-interest groups will only make members more beholden to their natural constituencies ? and more afraid of violating party orthodoxies."

MARCH 14, 2010

Obama adviser David Axelrod: "Under the ruling of the Supreme Court, any lobbyist could go [to] any legislator and say, 'If you don't vote our way on this bill, we're going to run a million-dollar campaign against you in your district.'"


In response to Citizens United, Democrats propose the Disclose Act, a bill that would require donors funding shadowy political nonprofit groups to be identified.

APRIL 23, 2010

Democratic talking points on the Disclose Act: "We can't flood our democracy with millions of dollars in political expenditures and then keep people in the dark about who is trying to influence them."

APRIL 29, 2010

Representative Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland: "This legislation will let the sun shine in at a time when so many Americans are already concerned about the influence of powerful special interests on our democracy."

MAY 1, 2010

President Obama in his weekly video address: "The American people ... have the right to know when some group like 'Citizens for a Better Future' is actually funded entirely by 'Corporations for Weaker Oversight.' What we are facing is no less than a potential corporate takeover of our elections."

JUNE 16, 2010

Representative Carolyn McCarthy, Democrat of New York: "I have a concern more so with the NRA putting their fingerprint on too much of our legislation. If people want to change that, they've got to start standing up, too."

JUNE 17, 2010

Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts: "It is not the bill I would have written, but it is better than nothing. If we are going to be Swift-boated, we should be able to know who is doing it."

JULY 26, 2010

Obama: "You'd think that reducing corporate and even foreign influence over our elections would not be a partisan issue. But of course, this is Washington in 2010."

JULY 27, 2010

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada: "It wasn't too long ago that greater disclosure in election spending was a bipartisan concept. But just as quickly as they ran to the side of big business and the insurance companies and big banks and the oil companies, Senate Republicans are now running away from transparency and accountability in our elections."


Democrats, deciding that competitiveness trumps hypocrisy, begin forming their own super PACs while continuing to criticize Citizens United and its impact.

SEPTEMBER 29, 2010

Craig Varoga, founder of the left-leaning Patriot Majority super PAC: "You can complain about the rules, or you can respond to them and fight back against the people who welcome those rule changes."

OCTOBER 4, 2010 executive director Justin Ruben: "We can't possibly match this spending dollar for dollar. Turnout is big in a midterm, and the best way to affect turn-out is person-to-person contact. These groups have a few millionaires, but they can't talk to that many people."

OCTOBER 7, 2010

Obama on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce: "Just this week, we learned that one of the largest groups paying for these ads regularly takes in money from foreign corporations. So groups that receive foreign money are spending huge sums to influence American elections."

OCTOBER 27, 2010

Spokesperson Ramona Oliver for America's Families First, one of the earliest Democratic super PACs: "We always know we're David to the right-wing Goliath, but we're trying to balance the scales."


Late to embrace super PACs and political nonprofits, the Democrats get crushed in the 2010 midterm elections and vow not to fall behind again.

NOVEMBER 20, 2010

David Axelrod: "I don't think we can put the genie back in the bottle."

APRIL 5, 2011

Spokesperson Chris Harris for American Bridge 21st Century, a super PAC devoted to researching and tracking GOP candidates: "In 2010, progressives were very slow to react to Citizens United, and we got pummeled. There's a recognition among operatives and donors that we can't do that again."

MAY 11, 2011

Bill Burton, co-founder of Priorities USA Action, a super PAC committed to re-electing--Obama: "A lot of Democrats are committed to reform, including us. But we've got to operate under the rules that exist, not the rules we wish existed."

JUNE 17, 2011

House Majority super PAC founder Alixandria Lapp: "We can't allow ourselves to be outspent again 3 to 1 in the outside-money game."

FEBRUARY 6, 2012

Obama flip-flops and urges donors to give to the Priorities USA Action super PAC. Obama 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina: "Our campaign has to face the reality of the law as it stands. We can't allow for two sets of rules in this election whereby the Republican nominee is the beneficiary of unlimited spending and Democrats unilaterally disarm."

MAY 7, 2012

Democratic fundraiser and operative Rob Stein: "Super PACs are critically important."

JUNE 29, 2012

Obama: "The special interests that are financing my opponent's campaign are just going to consolidate themselves. They're gonna run Congress and the White House."


As the polls tighten in the presidential race, the flow of Democratic donations to super PACs, once a trickle, becomes a flood of six-and seven-figure checks.


Democratic operative Peter Fenn: "With 60 days out. the rubber is hitting the road. If anybody can squeeze money from these folks, it's Rahm Emanuel."

OCTOBER 19, 2012

Bill Burton: "Democrats know that this race is even closer than we thought it would be, and if we're going to close this deal, everybody has to get involved."

NOVEMBER 11, 2012

Representative Van Hollen: "I don't think it's good for the process for people to have to spend even more time raising money to have an insurance policy against super PACs."


Post-election, Obama's 2012 campaign morphs into a nonprofit called Organizing for Action, and the Democratic big-money machine moves to Hillary Clinton.

JANUARY 30, 2013

Common Cause president Bob Edgar: "I think labor is going to give to them. Corporations are going to give to them. Huge wealthy donors are going to give to them. They have no problem with that being known and will want to call up the White House for access."

FEBRUARY 20, 2013

David Axelrod: "Too much money in politics. But if it's inevitable, let it flow directly to candidates and demand full disclosure, with stiff penalties. And end the super PAC and faux super PAC game that too often allows donors to elude detection and candidates to deny responsibility."

JANUARY 23, 2014

Obama campaign manager Jim Messina on joining Priorities USA Action super PAC, which turns into a pro-Hillary Clinton organization:

"I think the numbers clearly show that she's the strongest presidential candidate on the Democratic side. And Priorities is going to be there for her if she decides to run."

FEBRUARY 28, 2014

Organizing for Action spokesperson Katie Hogan, after director Jon Carson introduced a potential donor in legal trouble with the federal government to a White House aide: "We hold ourselves to the highest standards. In this case, we fell short."
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Author:Kroll, Andy
Publication:The American Prospect
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2014
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