The Supreme Court's landmark Citizens United ruling earlier this year helped major corporations and other interest groups spend more than $5 million on California's Senate race without disclosing their contributors, according to independent spending reports analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics.
Ten months ago, when the high court handed down Citizens United, effectively allowing businesses and trade groups to contribute unlimited sums to federal elections, the punditocracy was eager to predict an unprecedented flood of secret interest-group cash that would soon flow into competitive elections nationwide.
Many of those predictions have come true. In the months since, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has emerged as exhibit A in the ruling's predicted consequences, contributing millions of dollars to primarily Republican candidates while taking advantage of new legal covers to keep the sources of its contributions secret.
Here in California, the chamber was by far the largest outside spender on behalf of GOP Senate candidate Carly Fiorina. The organization spent neatly $5 million on attack ads tearing down Boxer – more than they spent in any other federal race, according to CRP data.
Other conservative groups, such as the National Organization for Marriage and Americans for Limited Government, a conservative think tank, helped Republicans dominate independent spending in the Boxer-Fiorina contest. In all, independent groups spent more than $11 million on the race.
As the Huffington Post reported last month, the chamber seems to have expected the backlash it would receive for its so-called secret donations even before Citizens United was handed down. In an amicus brief filed with the court, attorneys for the chamber wrote:
Moreover, it is common experience that, where the supporters of exempt speech are not disclosed, opponents can and do exploit the silence as a reason for discounting the speech. The fact that many speakers decline to identify their donors, even though doing so weakens the credibility of their speech, again confirms that required donor disclosure is burdensome and likely to suppress speech...
In this regard, it is offensively paternalistic for the government to simply assume that listeners are incapable of properly evaluating public speech in the absence of full disclosure of the speaker's funding sources. In their daily lives, Americans regularly discount speech to adjust for questions about its source. See generally McIntyre, 514 U.S. 334. That is doubly so in the area of political speech where speakers with opposing views are not shy in pointing out the absence of donor information.