Representatives from Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer rights advocacy group, held a March 2 panel at the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference. The pair of presenters focused on the history of big money in politics and the potential of even more dollars being spent to stop the climate change movement.
Scott Nelson from Public Citizen’s litigation group spoke first, discussing the U.S. Supreme Court rulings that paved the way for big money in politics. He talked about two particular cases in Arizona and Montana where groups used the argument that they wanted to “level the playing field” with Citizens United. However, Citizens United won because the courts didn’t like the level playing field argument, he said.
Corporations can give money to candidates without reporting it thanks to entities like 501(c)(4)s and super PACs. This makes it so corporations can donate more than what the IRS regulates. “It’s like saying you’re in an exclusive relationship as long as you only cheat 49 percent of the time,” Nelson says.
Tyler Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s energy program, went more in-depth about the future of politics. The pair spoke about billionaires such as the Koch brothers who donate big money to political causes and candidates. The consensus of the panel was that people like the Koch brothers will continue to spend money like they have done in the past.
The panel also discussed the fact that liberal billionaire Tom Steyer plans to donate $100 million in the 2014 elections to make climate change a top issue. According to Slocum, fighting big money with big money is not a long-term solution.
“It’s clear that $407 million spent by the Koch brothers is a drop in the bucket,” Slocum says. “And it’s clear they’re willing to spend more.”
The panel closed by saying that Public Citizen is currently trying to pass a constitutional amendment that will explicitly say that corporations are not people.