The 112th Congress was saturated by more than $34 million in direct campaign contributions from oil, gas, and coal interests. In addition, dirty fuel interests spent $270 million on television ads in just the last two months of the 2012 electoral cycle. And, on top of all that, the Koch Brothers reportedly spent $400 million in 2012. That's a pair of oil barons spending more in one cycle than John McCain's entire Presidential campaign spent in all of the 2008 cycle. It's an unbelievable state of affairs. And, today, with their ruling in McCutcheon v. FEC, the Supreme Court made a terrible situation much, much worse.
Four years ago, the court opened the floodgates to unlimited outside money in politics with its decision in Citizens United, letting a handful of big money campaign donors spend whatever they wanted to push their agenda and their allies into government. Today's decision in McCutcheon does the same thing for inside money, upping the amount of money these donors can give directly to candidates. The current limit is around $120,000. The McCutcheon decision will increase that to around $3.6 million. As you can guess, that doesn't affect a lot of everyday Americans.
It's as if the majority on the Supreme Court has had its eyes shut ever since Citizens United. Since that ruling, any progress in our government has ground to a dead stop, as obstructionists supported by big polluter dollars have distorted our government’s priorities and halted any effort to change the status quo. If Citizens United were a movie, no one but big money campaign donors would want a sequel - but the Supreme Court has delivered them just that today with McCutcheon.
Are you wondering who exactly will benefit and who will they be donating to? Take a look at who the case is named after: Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama Republican activist who made his fortune in - what else? - the coal industry. It's McCutcheon and other dirty fuel executives like him who wanted to pump even more money into the system - and the Supreme Court has rolled over and let them.
At the Sierra Club, we know that protecting our environment and our democracy go hand in hand - and when those who view contaminating our air, our water, and our climate as collateral damage are free to flood our government with millions more in unlimited cash, it drowns out the voice of everyone else.
Fortunately, big money campaign donors aren’t getting away with this corruption of our democracy without the American people putting up a fight - and the situation is far from hopeless. In a recent poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, results showed 91 percent of respondents want elected officials to "reduce the influence of money in political elections." Grassroots movements are emerging calling for public financing that levels the playing field and lifts up the voices of small donors. More and more Americans are demanding initiatives that pull back the curtain on political spending.
And, today, in dozens of locations across the country, Sierra Club activists are standing with labor union members, civil rights champions, and good government advocates at rallies demonstrating against the McCutcheon decision. We're showing that the people are more powerful than the polluters, no matter how much they want to pour into our elections. And we're demonstrating we’re ready to fight back. All told, the call for a democracy that is of, by, and for the people is growing louder and louder as more and more money pours in.
That is why we refuse to see the McCutcheon decision as a loss. Dozens of groups representing tens of millions of Americans opposing unlimited corporate money in politics will not just use this moment as a chance to speak out, but as an opportunity to organize together to make this a turning point in the fight to get money out of politics and get voters in.
The Supreme Court and the big polluters have made it clear what side they are on -- now, it's time we made it clear that its the wrong side.
-- Courtney Hight, director of the Sierra Club's Democracy Program