On January 21, 2010, the way that elections worked was dramatically altered. That was the day that the Supreme Court announced its decision in the Citizens United v. FEC case. The court ruled in favor of Citizens United, and this put corporations and individual American citizens on equal footing. As such, they both had the same power to donate to and work for political campaigns. Because of this ruling, corporations could donate billions of dollars, and they didn’t need to disclose these donations. It also caused political candidates to favor wealthy donors over individual citizens who didn’t have as much money to give.
The Birth of End Citizens United
In 2015, Jake Lipsett, Charles Starnes and Greg Berlin were working together at the same company, and they lamented about the fact that they were having so much trouble getting the Democrat Party’s agenda passed. They came to the conclusion that this difficulty was the result of the court’s decision on Citizens United and the ability corporate entities had to flood some candidates’ coffers with untraceable money.
Mr. Lipsett, Mr. Starnes and Mr. Berlin went to work to end this injustice by forming the political action committee or PAC known as “End Citizens United.” Along the way, they discovered that they had extensive support from many Americans all over the country.
On March 1, 2015, the three friends officially launched End Citizens United. They planned to fund their new organization with small donations from private citizens that would be used to help elect candidates who were interested in reforming our political campaign system. Candidates supported by the PAC definitively reject any money that comes from corporate entities, but they also pledge to work toward overturning Citizens United when they are elected to office.
ECU’s current president and executive director is Tiffany Muller, and she works tirelessly to fulfill the organization’s stated mission of getting Big Money out of our political campaign system. The group plans to do this by helping to elect candidates who are dedicated to campaign finance reform. Their ultimate goal is to work with these candidates for the purpose of overturning Citizens United. The PAC is located in Washington, D.C.
ECU is a committee that lives up to the values that it espouses because it doesn’t accept donations in amounts larger than $5,000. It currently has 3 million members, so the leadership feels confident in stating that Americans are in favor of changing the way that campaigns are run. They believe that it is a message that is attractive to democrats as well as independents. As a matter of fact, pollster Al Quinlan has stated that independent voters list removing big money from politics right below fighting terrorism and job creation.
ECU is currently supporting several democrats in their races this year. Two of these are Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Conor Lamb. Both have promised to leave corporate PAC donations on the table. When candidates are able to say that they are not accepting corporate money, they have the opportunity to boast that they are beholden to the people and not corporate entities.
ECU announced that 185 democrats have taken the pledge not to accept corporate money in this year’s races, and 85 of these candidates have already won their primaries. Along with Ocasio-Cortez and Lamb, Randy Bryce is also endorsed by End Citizens United. He will run against Paul Ryan in Wisconsin this year.
End Citizens United also has its favorite candidates in the Senate. These include Representative Francis Rooney of Florida and Representative Phil Roe of Tennessee. Sheldon Whitehouse, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand have already been endorsed by ECU.
Supporting Beto O’Rourke
One candidate whom ECU currently supports is Beto O’Rourke. He became a favorite of ECU after he refused to take money offered to him by large donors. O’Rourke is considered to be the underdog because not many people have ever heard his name before, but he has managed to raise more money than current Senator Ted Cruz in the beginning of the year. He will be running against Senator Cruz this year.
Because Ted Cruz did accept large donations, he currently has $7.3 million. O’Rourke was only able to raise $4.6 million because he refused to touch donations from big donors. The hope is that O’Rourke will be able to convince those who are disappointed in Cruz to vote for him, and according to some sources, a lot of these people exist. Some examples are those who don’t feel as if they are being heard by Senator Cruz. They are also people who are currently out of work, veterans who cannot obtain medical care and those in the border communities.
The Big Money 20
In addition to supporting candidates who follow its agenda, ECU also plans to target congressional candidates who do not. These politicians have proven in the past to place special interests above those of their constituents by refusing to vote for measures that would reform campaign finance laws, accepting large donations and supporting legislation that benefits large donors. End Citizens United calls these people the “Big Money 20.”
The Big Money 20 includes the following:
- Representative Mimi Walters
- Representative Claudia Tenney
- Representative Peter Roskam
- Representative Dana Rohrbacher
- Representative Rob Pittenger
- Representative Erik Paulsen
- Representative Pat Meehan
- Representative Tom MacArthur
- Representative Darrel Issa
- Representative Will Hurd
- Representative Duncan Hunter
- Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen
- Representative Ryan Costello
- Representative Mike Coffman
- Representative Mike Bost
- Representative Rod Blum
- Representative Mike Bishop
- House Speaker Paul Ryan
ECU’s executive director Tiffany Muller stated that the 20 people named above are the worst offenders currently serving in the House of Representatives. The PAC has even pledged to spend more than it spent in 2016 to fight the members of the Big Money 20 in their races. In 2016, they only spent $25 million, but this year, they will spend $35 million.
Click here to learn more about End Citizens United’s Big Money 20 >>
Opposition to End Citizens United
Some people have rejected the idea of keeping money donated by PACs out of the political process. Kristin Brackemyre of the Public Affairs Council has stated that PACs are regulated, and the donations they receive come from the corporation’s employees. According to Ms. Brackemyre, the PACs represent the interests of the people who work for the company and not the company itself.
Adam Bozzi of End Citizens United disagrees. He stated that the PACs are funded by the corporations’ employees, but the candidates focus on the corporations’ interests.
Even if ECU can build up more support for ending Citizens United, the road toward doing so will still be extremely rocky. Campaign spending has received First Amendment protection since 1976, and past decisions are not usually overturned. Even if a more liberal justice ends up on the Supreme Court, it wouldn’t make a difference.
End Citizens United’s New Tactic
It seems that ECU is taking its fight to the right people. Rather than concentrate on a constitutional amendment that would reverse Citizens United, the committee plans to take smaller steps that would result in the campaign finance reforms that they are seeking.
Laws governing political campaigns are generally passed in the states and not in Washington, D.C. Therefore, ECU would need to begin in a state that is sympathetic to its ideas. For example, those in favor of same-sex marriage started their fight in Massachusetts. Proponents started by introducing legislation that would give gays and lesbians parental rights as well as domestic partnership benefits. They also pushed for nondiscrimination rules. The result was that 37 states and the District of Columbia gave their residents the right to marry someone of the same sex before the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage was a federal right.
Some states have already gotten started on this new strategy. Seattle, Arizona, Connecticut and Maine have reduced the influence that private, large donors have on elections by approving lavish financing schemes. For example, candidates in Maine who agree to raise a given number of $5 donations will receive a public grant if they promise not to engage in any further private fundraising. In addition to that, Seattle put an initiative on its ballot that offers voters four $25 “democracy vouchers” that they would be able to donate to candidates who agree not to spend more than the designated limits.
The above initiatives had the result of increasing the amount of money that ordinary citizens can give to their preferred candidates. They also reduce the candidates’ dependence on the money that big donors can give them and help them set voluntary spending limits for their campaigns. Because of these laws, politicians can stop focusing only on their large donors’ concerns and pay attention to everybody’s interests. These laws also make it possible for ordinary citizens to run for office because realistic amounts of money are being raised. That is how convenience store clerks, waitresses and teachers have been able to start campaigns and run for office.