U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and John McCain (R-AZ) today filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court that details the explosion of anonymous political spending since the Citizens United decision. The brief was filed in a case regarding a Montana law that bars corporations from funding election ads. The case presents the opportunity for the Court to clarify the authority of Congress and state legislatures to address the threat of corruption posed by this spending.
"We are deeply concerned about the rise of unlimited, anonymous money now flooding our elections," Whitehouse and McCain said in a joint statement. "This unregulated and unaccountable spending invites corruption into our political process, and undermines our democracy. We urge the Supreme Court to make clear that legislatures can take appropriate actions against corrupting influences in campaigns."
The Senators' brief, filed in American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock, asks the Court to deny a petition to review a Montana Supreme Court decision which held that the Montana legislature's ban on corporate election spending was still constitutional following Citizens United. Failing that, the brief asks the Court to give the Montana case a full review in light of the flood of anonymous money that has entered political campaigns since Citizens United.
The brief urges the court to "revisit Citizens United's finding that vast independent expenditures do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption," arguing that rules requiring donor disclosure and prohibiting outside groups from coordinating with campaigns have been evaded and manipulated by politically-active groups and individuals. The brief chronicles the extensive coordination that takes place between campaigns and super PACs, and the means of "identity-laundering" that allow secret donors to hide their activity. The legislators conclude that "the campaign finance system assumed by Citizens United is no longer a reality, if it ever was."
The Senators have both been leading advocates on campaign finance issues. McCain was a co-author of the landmark Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, or "McCain-Feingold," which limited corporate expenditures on political ads, and which was partially struck down by Citizens United. Whitehouse has introduced legislation this year that would require enhanced disclosure of spending on political ads.