IN TWO SHORT years, the US Supreme Court’s ruling that corporations have the same political rights as individuals has produced plenty of mischief — so much so that the justices should have welcomed the chance to step it back. Instead, the same five justices who formed the majority in the 2010 Citizens United campaign-finance case made that ruling more sweeping, by rejecting — without hearing oral arguments — a Montana law that placed certain restrictions on corporate campaign expenditures in that state’s elections.
In his Citizens United ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy confidently asserted that independent corporate expenditures in political campaigns “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” But it didn’t take long for corrupting influences to emerge. Political campaigns quickly created nominally independent “super PACs” that run negative ads using gobs of money from often unaccountable donors. A billionaire casino owner singlehandedly kept Newt Gingrich’s foundering presidential campaign alive by pouring millions into the former House speaker’s super PAC, even as he struggled to raise money by conventional means.