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Since “Citizens United,” Billionaires Are Spending Nearly $1B More on Elections

Billionaires spent $1.2 billion on the 2020 election – about 70 times what they spent on campaign donations in 2008.

People gather outside of the Supreme Court to hear Senate Democrats unveil a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United in Washington, D.C., on July 30, 2019.

Billionaires are spending nearly 40 times more on elections than they were 12 years ago thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, a new report has found.

Analyzing campaign contribution data, Americans for Tax Fairness found that billionaires have increased their donations from $31 million total during the 2010 election cycle to a whopping $1.2 billion in the 2020 election cycle, or about 39 times more. 2020’s total doesn’t even include the $1.4 billion total that Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer contributed to their own campaigns, the report noted.

Overall, nearly 40 percent of all billionaire election spending since 1990 took place in 2020, totalling about 9.3 percent of federal campaign contributions. About 55 percent of donations went to Republicans.

Billionaire donations appear to be on an upward trend. In 2016, billionaires spent a staggering $682 million on campaign contributions, or about half of their spending in 2020. In 2012, billionaires spent about $233 million.

This is vastly more than billionaires spent prior to Citizens United. In the 2008 presidential election cycle, billionaires donated about $17 million, according to a report by Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies last year. This means that billionaires spent over 70 times more on elections in 2020 than in 2008, before the controversial Supreme Court decision.

In January of 2010, conservative Supreme Court justices ruled in their Citizens United decision that restricting corporate donations was a violation of corporations’ First Amendment rights – a decision that granted individual rights to corporations and enabled them to spend unlimited amounts of money on campaign contributions. As a result of this decision, vast amounts of money from corporate and deep-pocketed interests have been funneled into elections.

Citizens United paved the way for the rise of super PACs, which can spend unlimited amounts on campaigns as long as they’re not officially coordinating events with candidates. This has been a vehicle for billionaires to majorly influence elections, Americans for Tax Fairness notes.

“On this anniversary of the disastrous Citizens United decision, the escalating campaign donations of billionaires offer the clearest argument possible for why we have to get big money out of politics,” said Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness. “Weak taxation of the wealthy combined with anemic regulation of campaign fundraising have handed America’s billionaires outsized political influence to go along with their huge economic clout.”

Campaign donations serve as an investment for the ultrarich. Indeed, one of the reasons why billionaires are donating more money than before is because they have been allowed to accrue unlimited wealth virtually tax-free; right now, that wealth is accumulating faster than ever. While $1.2 billion is an unfathomable amount of money for a very small group of individuals to have contributed, it is less than 0.1 percent of billionaire wealth, the report found.

The ultrarich are allowed to hoard this wealth largely because their campaign contributions to politicians incentivize lawmakers to implement tax breaks for the rich, creating a vicious cycle where the two groups feed off each other while the public is left to suffer.

One way to break the cycle, progressive advocates have said, is for lawmakers or officials to overrule Citizens United. “Corporations are not people, and billionaires shouldn’t get to use their enormous wealth to pick and choose who they want in office,” Americans for Tax Fairness wrote. “It’s well beyond time for Citizens United to go, and to put real action towards getting big money out of politics. Our democracy depends on it.”

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